Friday, October 31, 2008

Maverick News: Reality Checks

This Week: Obama on drugs, Mexican decriminalization plan, preemptive raid in Syria, the stages of loss and the future of rail travel, banning masks in Missouri, defining socialism, and a comment on expectations. Live Broadcast Friday, October 31, Noon EST, on The Howie Rose Show (WOMM), streamed on The Radiator.

ENLIGHTENED HYPOCRISY. Here’s a sign that either we’re on the verge of a paradigm shift – or getting close to the End Times. White House drug czar John Walters has backed a proposal to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana – in Mexico.

On Oct. 22, The New York Times reported Walters' support for a drug decriminalization proposal by Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Of course Walters added, "I don't think that's legalization." Under Calderon's proposal, individuals caught with small quantities of marijuana would receive no jail sentence or fine – and no criminal record -- as long as they complete either drug education or treatment. The Mexican plan would also decriminalize possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines.

"It's fantastic that John Walters has recognized the massive destruction the drug war has inflicted on Mexico and is now calling for reforms there,” said the Marijuana Policy Project. “But he's a rank hypocrite if he continues opposing similar reforms in the US."

Case in point: Last March, a press release from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy called a modest New Hampshire proposal – a $200 fine rather than jail time for a small amount of marijuana – "a dangerous first step toward complete drug legalization."

OBAMA ON DRUGS. Things will be different with Obama, right? Not exactly. Where does The One stand on our longest war, the war on drugs? During a Democratic primary debate, moderator Tim Russert asked the candidates who opposed decriminalization of marijuana to raise their hands. Barack Obama hesitantly raised his halfway, then quickly lowered it again. But in 2004, when Obama was running for the US Senate, he told Illinois college students that he supported eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana use or possession. "I think the war on drugs has been a failure, and I think we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws," he said. "But I'm not somebody who believes in legalization of marijuana."

When the Washington Times recently confronted Obama with a video of that debate, his campaign offered two explanations in less than 24 hours. First, a spokesperson said he had "always" supported decriminalizing marijuana, reiterated his opposition to full legalization, and called the sentencing of nonviolent offenders for drug crimes “blind and counterproductive." But after the video was posted, the campaign said he doesn’t support either decriminalization or legalization.

By the way, a CNN/Time-Warner poll shows that 76 percent of Americans agree with Obama's original position – eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana use – not to mention the 48 million who smoked pot in 2007.

PICK A STAGE (OF LOSS). Some people are bound to be disappointed next week. So, here’s some advice for those dealing with loss, courtesy of Scientific American. You may not need to go through all the stages of grief. You just need to make some sense of what feels like a chaotic and desperate situation. Maybe two stages of loss will be enough. Or maybe just a good story you tell yourself.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. You’ve probably heard this list, the so-called five stages of grief, introduced in the 1960s by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She had studied the emotional state of dying patients. But there’s no solid evidence that most people go through most of these stages, in this or any order. According to Russell Friedman, co-author of The Grief Recovery Handbook, "no study has ever established that stages of grief actually exist, and what are defined as such can't be called stages…. No matter how much people want to create simple, bullet-point guidelines for the human emotions of grief, there are no stages of grief that fit any two people or relationships."

Still, we humans like to reduce the complexities of life to clear stages. Freud insisted that we move through five stages of psychosexual development: oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. Erik Erikson countered with eight: trust vs. mistrust (infant); autonomy vs. doubt (toddler); initiative vs. guilt (preschooler); industry vs. inferiority (school-age period); identity vs. role confusion (adolescent); intimacy vs. isolation (young adult); generativity vs. stagnation (middle age); and integrity vs. despair (older adult). And Harvard psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg says our moral development progresses through six stages: parental punishment, selfish hedonism, peer pressure, law and order, social contract, and principled conscience.

Why stages? Maybe we’re just pattern-seeking, storytelling primates, struggling to make sense of a chaotic and unpredictable world. Stages fit well into a chronological sequence, stories with set narrative patterns. They impose order on chaos, offer predictability over uncertainty, and optimism over despair.

So, if you’re in some early stage of grief next week after the election, tell yourself a good story. Maybe just pick a stage – say anger or denial, if that’s your thing – and go with it. Personally I recommend acceptance. But most people will probably go with blame.

THE FUTURE OF RAILS. By now we know the problems: congested highways, high fuel prices, dependence on foreign oil, pollution and global warming. But the good news is that this combination may be creating conditions for reforming transportation policies. Americans are already cutting back on driving and turning to trains in record numbers. And Congress recently heard that overreliance on the airline industry is no longer the best way to move people around states or across the country.

In October, with little fanfare, Congress passed the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act by a veto-proof margin. Among other things, it authorizes $3.4 billion to create high-speed passenger rail corridors and provide rail capital-improvement grants to states. The project proposed for the Midwest would cover 3,000 miles in nine states, with lines radiating from a hub in downtown Chicago. According to the Chicago Tribune, the cost of a fully completed Midwest network will cost up to $8 billion. Modern, comfortable, double-deck trains with wide seats and large windows would churn along at top speeds of 110 mph. That’s up from, an average of 79, and much slower in and out of Chicago itself. Faster trains would shave hours off trips, delivering passengers from one downtown to another hundreds of miles away. It’s not futuristic, but does sound like a move in the right direction.

MASK ATTACK. If you’re excited about Halloween, thank whatever god or goblin that you’re not living in Belleville, Missouri. Why Belleville? Because last week Mayor Mark Eckert signed a new law that sets weirdly strict rules for dressing up on Halloween – and any other day of the year. It happened because some homeowners were scared or irritated by late-night trick-or-treating. Some of the solutions:

* Ban anyone above the middle school level from trick or treating unless they are a "special-needs" child accompanied by a parent or guardian.

* Limit the hours of trick-or-treating from 5 - 8:30 pm.

* Children 12 years old or younger can wear a mask or disguise any day of the year. But anyone older than that can only wear a mask or disguise on Halloween, and not on any other day of the year.

The City Council spent a year discussing ways to protect children on Halloween night, and, to be fair, also added a provision to discourage child predators. But the concerns of a few, irritated by teens who apparently knock on their doors late at night, pretty much takes the fun out of Halloween for anyone over 12, and may well infringe on a basic right – the right to wear a mask. Superheroes, take note.

A LAST WORD ON SOCIALISM. We’ve certainly heard enough about it during the presidential race. But let’s give a conservative the last word on socialism. George Will puts it this way: “Ninety-five percent of what the government does is redistribute wealth. It operates on the principle of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Case in point: we have sugar subsidies. Costs the American people billions of dollars but they don't notice it it's in such small increments. But the few sugar growers get very rich out of this. Now we have socialism for the strong - that is the well-represented and organized in Washington like the sugar growers. But it's socialism none the less and it's not new.”

LAME DUCK PREMPTION. Last week the US staged a bold helicopter raid inside Syria, using two dozen U.S. commandos, killing at least eight civilians, and ratcheting up regional tensions. Syria condemned it as an “aggressive act,” but Iraq said the area targeted was used by militants to launch cross-border attacks inside Iraq. Assuming that’s true, the question remains, why now?

Some commentators speculate that the raid was designed to be an "October surprise"— an attack designed to sway voters prior to the election into fearing the threat of terrorism from Syria, and therefore voting for John McCain. But even if not, the Bush administration is orchestrating a late expansion of the so-called "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emptive war, adding unprovoked military strikes across international borders. A September raid inside Pakistan falls into the same category.

Robert Dreyfuss explained it this way in the Nation: “A parallel new Bush Doctrine is emerging, in the last days of the soon-to-be-ancien regime...this one also casts international law aside by insisting that the United States has an inherent right to cross international borders in "hot pursuit" of anyone it doesn't like. They're already applying it to Pakistan, and this week Syria was the target. Is Iran next?”

When asked about cross-border operations by the Senate last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "'We will do what is necessary to protect our troops.” Under further questioning, he said he wasn’t an expert in international law, but assumed the State Department had consulted such laws. Not an expert in international law? He'll leave it to the State Department? This is the guy that Obama's advisers want to stay on at the Pentagon under an Obama administration.

Bottom line: The US attack inside Syria sets a precedent for future expansion of the "war on terror," and there’s no sign yet that Obama disagrees.


LOWERING EXPECTATIONS. We’re only a few days from E-day – otherwise known as the most important election in at least 40 years -- and there’s no sign of the coup some were predicting, or the capture of bin Laden, or the invasion of some convenient target. Plus, as far as we can tell, the elections are going to take place. So, some expectations are on the verge of being shattered.

Of course, there have been those strikes inside Pakistan and Syria. Iraq remains a powder keg, the war in Afghanistan is intensifying, and US hostility to Iran shows no sign of fading. In other words, more war is still a real possibility – whether it’s McCain or Obama in the presidency.

According to John McCain and Sarah Palin, electing Obama will be a big step toward some kind of socialism, with terrorist sympathizers taking up residence in the White House. But reality is bound to intrude not long after the vote. There will be change, but it will look more like a gradual return to the center than a lurch to the Left. If you’re expecting universal health care, an abrupt end to the war on terror – and the war on drugs, or even a bunch of new faces in the next administration, prepare for disappointment.

On the other hand, we may see something like a new New Deal – major public works programs – and a roll back of some of the worst Bush ideas. The Supreme Court will have several new members, and, with Obama, they’re likely to restore some moderation and protect precedents like Roe v Wade. More important, the Court will be less likely to go along with the executive power grab that’s been underway since Cheney and Bush took charge.

But don’t expect miracles. Or an end to the deep cultural and political divide in the US. As the campaign has revealed, anger and resentment are roiling in many parts of the country. And that won’t end soon. Let’s also not forget that Democrats, even with control of both Congress and the White House, are just as capable of corruption and war-mongering.

In the end, our elections are more like a movie in which we’re manipulated into a state of high tension and anticipation, then let down by an anti-climatic ending. Very likely, the bad guys will get away – expect some last minute pardons – and the good guys will turn out to be not nearly as noble as they look.

That doesn’t mean the outcome isn’t important. But it’s probably going to be one of those end-of-season cliffhangers, and we’ll have to wait until the next season to see if the show has a satisfying twist. Most likely, it will be a letdown.

I could be wrong, but the best bet is to lower our expectations now. The new boss may not be the same as the old boss. But more than likely we’re going to be fooled again.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vermont TV Ad Pledges Bush Prosecution

Charlotte Dennett, the Vermont Progressive Party’s candidate for Attorney General, is airing this 60-second TV ad with her promise to put George W. Bush on trial if elected.

To find out more, check out Dennett’s campaign website.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Podcast Alert: October Surprises

Hear Greg Guma, FP Casini and Sulla Blaine discuss hate speech at McCain events, Sarah Palin’s Future, the politics of presidential affect, and much more during News @ Noon, co-produced by The Howie Rose Show and Maverick Media. Also, Underreported News: Pot as a wedge issue, outsourcing intelligence, activists targeted as “terrorists,” and Virginia at the crossroad. Plus Greg’s Comment: Vermont’s Progressive Moment.

The Howie Rose Show airs live weekly on Friday morning at WOMM, and streams on The Radiator from Burlington, ground zero in the People’s Republic of Vermont. This installment of Maverick News originally aired October 17, 2008, Noon – 1 p.m. Thanks to Big Heavy World.

Check the sidebar for the latest installment.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Maverick News: Desperate Tactics

This Week: Stealing beaches, voting improvements, Mexican journalists under fire, Presidential Death Match Update, Bernie Sanders and Bill Maher talk socialism, and turning a “red scare” into a teachable moment. Live Broadcast Friday, October 24, Noon EST, on The Howie Rose Show (WOMM), with FP Cassini, Greg Guma, and Sulla Blaine, streamed on The Radiator.

BUDDY, CAN YOU SPARE SOME SAND? You know it’s a recession when people start stealing sand. That’s the situation in Jamaica, where police are investigating the suspected theft of hundreds of tons of sand from a beach on the island's north coast. A couple of months ago 500 truck-loads of sand were lifted from outside a planned resort at Coral Spring beach. Detectives say people in the tourism business could be the culprits. A good beach is a valuable asset, at least to hotels on Caribbean islands. But no one has been arrested so far.

It’s known as illegal sand mining. People build their own homes here, which creates a huge demand for sand as a construction material. However, in this case the large volume and type of sand stolen points to the hotel industry. There’s also suspicion that some cops were working with the movers. The authorities are carrying out forensic tests on beaches along the coast to see if any of it matches the stolen sand. Can you see it, CSI, Kingston.

Obviously, something must be done to halt this redistribution of…beaches.

ADVENTURES IN VOTING. Predictions of voter fraud and suppression abound these days. But maybe we’ve actually learned something from the past. The Brennan Center, Common Cause and Verified Voting recently issued a 50-state report card that grades each state on its preparedness for election system breakdowns. According to Lawrence Norden, director of the Voting Technology Project at the Brennan Center, in the last few years election officials around the country have actually made dramatic improvements. Contrary to what we’ve been hearing, it’s much less likely this year that voters will be disenfranchised due to voting system failures. But more needs to be done to make sure everyone gets to vote and every vote is counted.

The report recommends that, "Election officials [should] have backup measures in place -- like emergency paper ballots and sound ballot counting procedures -- to ensure the integrity of the vote. ... Of the 24 states that use voting machines, eight states, including Colorado and Virginia, have no guidance or requirement to stock emergency paper ballots at the polls. In contrast, 12 states, including Ohio and North Carolina, recommend emergency paper ballots to be given to voters if machine failures are causing long lines."

FairVote has looked specifically at Virginia, a key battleground state, and found that the state doesn’t have a standardized method for allocating poll booths, which may cause long lines on Election Day. This has been a problem in lower-income neighborhoods in recent election cycles.

Rebecca Wilson, co-director of Save Our Votes, talked about the situation in Maryland. In 2004 and 2006, some voters had to wait for hours and this year many may leave without casting a ballot. Measures that could ease election-day congestion – like early voting or no-excuse absentee voting – have been blocked by Maryland's courts. One study predicts that many Maryland polling places could again experience wait times of greater than two hours this November. The solution would be for Maryland's State Board of Elections to authorize the use of emergency ballots to prevent or reduce long lines. States like Ohio have already taken this step.

TARGET: THE MEDIA. The media has been under attack in the US recently, accused on bias and gotcha journalism. But at least no one’s getting whacked. Not so in Mexico, where the bullet-ridden body of Miguel Villagomez, editor of a newspaper in Michoacan, was found last week in a garbage dump. His newspaper covers issues like drug trafficking, corruption and organized crime. Before he disappeared, Villagomez had received a threatening call from the Zetas, former soldiers who worked for the powerful Gulf drug cartel.

This is just the latest in a series of abductions, disappearances and murders of journalists during the past year in Mexico. It’s now one of the most dangerous countries in the hemisphere for the media, even surpassing Colombia. During the past eight years, at least 24 journalists and media workers have been killed, eight are missing, and dozens more have been threatened.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, Villagómez wasn't the only journalist murdered that day. David García Monroy, a freelancer who worked with the newspapers La Jornada and El Diario de Chihuahua, was one of 11 people killed when professional killers burst into the bar where he was drinking in Chihuahua and opened fire.

Impunity for press crimes is one of the most alarming aspects of the human rights situation in Mexico. Few successful prosecutions are brought forward. But last month the Mexican Congress promised a bill that would make crimes against journalists a federal offense. Meanwhile, press freedom groups have started their own campaign. At a regional conference held in Mexico City, delegates got safety guidelines and training from editors and journalists in hotspots like Tijuana, Colombia and Brazil.

At its General Assembly this month, the Inter American Press Association pointed to four major trends in Latin America: worsening relations between governments and the press; inappropriate government use of public funds to pressure and discriminate against the media by granting or withholding advertising; more violence; and, on the bright side, approval of freedom of information laws in Guatemala and Chile.

Eight journalists have been killed in Latin America this year, not counting the deaths last week. It doesn’t look like the situation will improve soon.

PRESIDENTIAL DEATH MATCH UPDATE. The 2008 elections took a detour into the past last week – namely back to the 1950s McCarthy Era. Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, appearing on MSNBC’s Hardball, attacked the patriotism of Barack Obama, based on his alleged relationship to former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers and the values of Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

"I'm very concerned that he may have anti-American views," she said. "That's what the American people are concerned about." But she went even further, suggesting that all liberal views – held by people such as Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, professors, and people who identify themselves as "liberals" – are "anti-American."

Host Chris Matthews was stunned. Then she called on the media to conduct investigations into the anti-American activities of members of Congress, similar to Sen. Joseph McCarthy's discredited House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the 1950s. "I think people would love to see an expose like that," she claimed.

One unintended outcome of Bachmann’s outburst was that her Democratic opponent raised nearly three quarters of a million dollar for his campaign in the weekend following her appearance. However, the McCain campaign amplified her charge, calling the proposals of Democrats and Obama in particular “socialist.”

Here’s Sarah Palin on Obama’s “socialist” agenda:

One McCain backer even said the idea of “spreading the wealth” – which is what the tax system, social security and other programs have done for more than 80 years – is communist.

And here are Bernie Sanders, Ben Affleck and Martin Short discussing socialism with Bill Maher on his show Real Time:


A TEACHABLE MOMENT. So, now we’re discussing socialism. Somehow the idea that this country has had a generally progressive tax system for almost a century has become the basis for a slur. The L-word – liberal – has been replaced by the S-word. But the truth is that the US government, like most western democracies, has been operating with such socialist programs – in an undeniably capitalist system – for decades.

But what are we talking about here? Socialism: A theory of social organization where the state runs the production and distribution of goods, in order to create a society based on equality. Now, we clearly don’t have the state running the economy. But we have had programs designed to increase economic equality – and sometimes programs that have done the opposite. In other words, we’ve had redistribution of wealth. But during the last few decades it’s basically been redistribution toward the top.

What do socialists believe? That capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth, creating an unequal society. But they disagree about how much government intervention will work. Some socialists advocate complete nationalization of production. Others prefer state control of capital within a market economy. Social Democrats talk about selective nationalization of key elements in a mixed economy, along with tax-funded welfare programs. Libertarian socialists don’t like state control and prefer direct collective ownership – workers coops, workers councils, basically workplace democracy.

Libertarian socialists, and libertarians in general, weren’t happy about the financial bailout a few weeks ago. Social democrats felt it didn’t go far enough. And most capitalists? They decried the situation but went along, even chirping that “we are all socialists now.” Perhaps, at least as far as losses are concerned. The truth is, we’ve been living with socialist ideas – but not in a socialist society – for many years, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

In many European countries, socialism means a large role for the government in economic affairs. In the old Soviet Union and China today, socialism has meant the government owning and operating many industries. Karl Marx himself focused on the internal organization of production, saying that under capitalism workers produce a surplus and a small number of other people appropriate and distribute it to keep capitalism going. Under Communism the workers displace boards of directors and become, collectively, their own directors. Obama has endorsed none of these definitions of socialism.

The current attempt to stir up fear about socialism, and link it to terrorism and un-American activity, is a cheap but tried-and-true political ploy. It’s the new culture war, based on resentment, fear, ignorance, and selfishness. The subtext of the McCain campaign is that we are not all equal, that being pro-American means embracing a specific, narrow set of values, and that the government shouldn’t be a force for equality. The McCain argument depends on labeling and division.

Is Obama a socialist? No. But his campaign agenda has a vaguely democratic socialist ring, while McCain’s has a vaguely national fascist tone. So, is McCain then a Fascist? Probably not. But wouldn’t it be great to see talking heads debate that topic with the same speculative abandon they’ve devoted to socialism, Islamo-fascism, and other misleading labels.

Not likely. But at least the voting public is getting a good look at just how twisted a campaign can get when it’s desperate and has nowhere to go except cheap red baiting. Even better, people may even decide that a little redistribution of wealth – from the top to the bottom – might not be so bad. I could be wrong, but this looks like a teachable moment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Breaking the Two-Party Monopoly

Barack Obama is expected to win Vermont in the presidential race by as much as 30 points. But the real surprise is the race for governor. At first, three-term Republican incumbent Jim Douglas looked like a shoo-in. But something unusual is happening. Independent candidate Anthony Pollina has pulled ahead of the Democrat, Gaye Symington.

Although September poll showed Douglas with 48 percent of the vote, Symington with 33 percent and Pollina with just 7, a poll released last week by Rasmussen Reports shuffled the race. Douglas received 45 percent support, followed by Pollina with 25 percent and Symington with 20 percent.

Pollina says that the recent poll shows his momentum, and declining support for both of his opponents. If nothing changes, Douglas would end up with the most votes. But if he gets under 50 percent the state legislature will make the decision. Vermont Democrats have a 60 vote edge in the legislature, not counting the six Progressives and two Independents in the House of Representatives.

What if the Obama surge, combined with a successful insurgent campaign here, moves Pollina up another 5 or 10 points between now and Election Day? It takes money, but it could happen. Pollina is arguably the strongest, best qualified Independent candidate for governor in almost a century.

As people wake up and realize what’s at stake there could be a snowball effect, making it anybody’s race. Specifically, it becomes even more than likely that no candidate will get 50 percent of the vote.

The legislature usually picks highest vote-getter but it’s not a rule. And the lawmakers – who are also elected, after all – get to use their own judgment. In 1976, they picked Republican Garry Buckley for Lieutenant Governor even though the Democrat had more votes.

It could happen. If Pollina gets more votes than Symington, the state legislature could face a fundamental choice – confirm an out-of-touch Republican, at a time when the state and country is rejecting the GOP “brand,” or vote for change.

"This is not the elephant in the room; this is the room,” says University of Vermont political science Professor Garrison Nelson. It’s not surprising to see Pollina advancing in the polls, he adds, since he has run for both governor and lieutenant governor in the past. "I thought it was just a matter of time that once people thought he was electable they would start moving in his direction. Is it enough to win the election? No, but Jim Douglas will not escape the Legislature."

Running for governor as a Progressive in 2000, Pollina received 9.5 percent in a crowded field led by incumbent governor Howard Dean, who won with 50.4 percent. Two years later, Pollina ran for Lt. Governor, again as a Progressive, receiving 24.8 percent of the vote in a three way race. This year, Pollina started his race again as a Progressive, but decided to change his affiliation to Independent in July. At a news conference on July 21, he said that running as an independent “is by far the best way” to build a coalition.

The Obama juggernaut will almost certainly send the election to the Legislature, according to Nelson. "Barack Obama is going to win Vermont by at least 30 points. It is going to be embarrassing to the Republican Party how badly John McCain is going to lose Vermont," he predicts. "Jim Douglas will have to perform 15 points better than John McCain. That's a tall order for anybody. The Republican brand has become so tarnished."

If Symington and Pollina receive 60 percent of the vote combined, Douglas should begin to worry about who the Legislature will choose. "They're going to say, 'Jim, there's no mandate here for your policies,'" Nelson notes.

Pollina, who has been endorsed by the Vermont State Employees Union, the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association and the Vermont chapter of the AFL-CIO, says that his economic plan will focus on projects that put Vermonters to work and help the state maintain an aging infrastructure. "I think of myself of being in the vein of FDR and Jim Douglas as being in the vein of George Bush and John McCain," he argues.

His immediate task is to prove to Vermonters that he can win. If he succeeds, Vermont – which has elected Independent Bernie Sanders to Congress nine times over the last 18 years – has a chance in two weeks to truly break the two-party monopoly.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Maverick News: October Surprises

This Week: October Surprises, Pot as a Wedge Issue, Private Spies, Profiling Activists, Setting Up ACORN, Obama’s Economic Plan, and Vermont’s Progressive Moment

SHOCK TREATMENT. They call it the October Surprise, the idea that a news event – perhaps manipulated by some group -- with the potential to influence the outcome of a presidential election bursts upon the scene in the last month of the campaign. The term was first used in 1980, initially when rumors spread that Jimmy Carter was preparing a military invasion of Iran to rescue the hostages and help him get reelected. Later, allegations surfaced that Ronald Reagan’s team had its own “surprise,” purposely slowing down the hostage release to block a boost for Carter. Whatever the truth, Reagan won.

But it goes back farther. In October 1968, for instance, as the race between Humphrey and Nixon was winding down, President Johnson announced a bombing halt of North Vietnam on October 31. He apparently hoped that peace negotiations would bear fruit by the time of the election. It didn’t happen, and Nixon won. Let’s call that Mission (Not) Accomplished.

1972: Less than a month before the election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, announced that "peace is at hand" in Vietnam. Nixon was already winning, but Kissinger's statement increased Nixon's standing. The war continued until 1975. Obvious, that’s the Just Kidding Surprise.

1992: Just four days before the election, Ronald Reagan's defense secretary Caspar Weinberger was indicted in the Iran-Contra scandal. Republicans accused the Independent Counsel of timing the announcement to hurt George H.W. Bush's re-election chances. Clinton won, but on Christmas Eve 1992 in the waning days of the first Bush presidency, Bush pardoned Weinberger – just days before his trial was scheduled to begin. I guess that’s technically a double Surprise. I just call it a Double Cross.

2000: Days before the election, Fox News unearthed an old report that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunk driving in that state in 1976. Considering the source, this may have been an October Surprise preemption – a way to defuse the impact of the story. Whatever, it’s still an Oh, Really Surprise.

2004: On October 29, Al Jazeera aired a video of Osama bin Laden. He called out the Bush administration and said, "Your security does not lie in the hands of Kerry, Bush, or al-Qaeda … Your security is in your own hands.” Heavy. This may have given Bush a bounce, putting the War on Terror back in the center of the debate. Most likely, this was an example of the Unintended Surprise.

So, what’s the surprise this October? The financial meltdown, capturing bin Laden, Nancy Reagan’s broken pelvis? Is it still ahead…?

WEDGE ISSUE? Here’s a surprise. In California, Massachusetts and Michigan people will have a chance in November to revisit their states' policies on marijuana. In California and Massachusetts, voters will decide whether to join 10 other states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Instead of facing arrest and time behind bars, those caught with up to an ounce of grass would be subject to civil fines of $100 or less – similar to a traffic violation. Meanwhile, Michigan could become the first state in the Great Lakes region to authorize medical marijuana. So, pot becomes a wedge issue in Michigan. Who knew?

PRIVATE SPIES. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it probably will. About 70 percent of intelligence work around the world is now outsourced to private companies. So says Tim Shorrock in his new book, Spies for Hire, which focuses on the privatization of the intelligence industry. In dollars, that means $50 billion going to private spooks each year – with little or no oversight of any kind. I’ve been tracking this for about eight years, privatizing intelligence, the military – basically outsourcing national defense. To find out more, check out Maverick Media reports on military privatization.

WATCHING ACTIVISTS. Speaking of spies, evidence is mounting that activists are being classified as terrorists. A recent example out of Maryland: More than 50 people, including two Catholic nuns, a congressional candidate, and a guy who campaigns against military recruitment at high schools. When they recently had a chance to look at their files in federal and Maryland data bases, they discovered a surveillance operation focusing on them and others. It began in 2005, but it’s unclear how long it went on. Opponents of the death penalty, Iraq War, and biodefense research were among the targets. The files were obtained by the ACLU after a lawsuit.

One of the targets was Pat Elder, who leads a national network that opposes military recruitment in high schools. When he called the police to review his file, he was told he would get only a half-hour. When he requested more time, the cop on the phone said, OK, he could have it – and, by the way, his file was "quite extensive."

No surprise there.

REALITY CHECK. One sign that Republicans are becoming desperate is one of their new strategies – to raise concerns about voter fraud. Yes, the Republicans. Who said irony is dead? But the attempt to target ACORN – short for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now – and link it to the Obama campaign is pretty misleading.

A little background. ACORN was founded in 1970. It’s a community-based organization that advocates for low- and moderate-income families, working on neighborhood safety, health care and other social issues. It also registers voters. Obama did a little free legal work for the group 13 years ago. In early October, ACORN announced that it had registered 1.3 million new voters for the November election. If you’re Republican, this is scary. But sometimes people hired by ACORN to sign up new voters get lazy and submit phony names. The truth is that non-existent people can’t vote – so it’s not VOTER FRAUD – and ACORN itself flagged the problem.

But some people, including McCain’s campaign, have seized on reports of apparently fraudulent voter registration forms in some states, claiming that ACORN is committing "voter fraud." To be clear: It's not voter fraud unless someone shows up at the voting booth on Election Day and tries to pass himself off as someone else. By the way, McCain himself praised the group publicly just two years ago.

According to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, "There are no reports that we have discovered of votes actually cast in the names of [false] registrants." Under most state laws, in fact, voter registration organizations like ACORN have to turn in all the forms they receive, even the suspicious ones. Then they flag any problem forms – which is exactly what ACORN did.

Still, the real concern – that many voters will find it difficult in November to cast their ballots due to a real problem, various forms of active voter suppression – remains. It’s not about ACORN. It’s about the gatekeepers at the ballot box.

ECONOMIC ARMADEGGON, WEEK FIVE: If you need any more proof that Reagan’s anti-government revolution is over, listen to this. The speaker is James Baker III, Republican stalwart and the man to helped George W. become president during the Florida election fiasco in 2000. On October 12, he said, This is bigger than the private sector can fix by itself.” So, there you go.

Now, we have governments around the world stepping in, and the US government wanting an ownership stake in banks for putting up money to save them. It’s not socialism and not unprecedented, but it is a surprising development.

In 1917, the government seized the railroads to make sure goods, weapons and troops moved smoothly during World War I. Bondholders and stockholders were compensated, and railroads were returned to private ownership after the war ended. During World War II, Washington seized dozens of companies including railroads, coal mines and, briefly, the Montgomery Ward department store chain. In 1952, President Harry Truman seized 88 steel mills across the country, saying that their owners were provoking an industry-wide strike that would cripple the Korean War effort. That time, the Supreme Court ruled the seizures an unconstitutional abuse of presidential power.

In 1984, the government took an 80 percent stake in the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust. The bank had failed, in part, because of bad oil loans in Oklahoma and Texas. One of the country's top 10 banks at the time, Continental Illinois was considered "too big to fail" by regulators, who feared wider turmoil in the financial markets. Sound familiar? It was sold to Bank of America in 1994.

The nearest precedent for the new plan is the investments made by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in the 1930s. It not only made loans to distressed banks. It bought stock in 6,000 banks, at a total cost of about $3 billion. When the economy eventually stabilized, the government sold the stock to private investors or the banks themselves.

This week the stock market slowly recovered, but the mood remained – as they say on Wall Street – volatile. Meanwhile, both presidential candidates pushed recovery plans. Here is Obama’s – a four step proposal to create jobs and cushion people against the effects of the economic downturn.

The proposals: temporary tax credits for firms that create new jobs in the US, penalty-free withdrawals from retirement accounts, and temporarily barring banks from foreclosing on people trying to pay their mortgages. Obama also calls on the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department to set up a facility to lend to state and municipal governments, similar to the steps recently taken by the Federal Reserve to inject liquidity into the commercial debt market. The idea is to unfreeze markets for individual mortgages, student loans, car loans, loans for multifamily dwellings and credit card loans.


A VERMONT SURPRISE? Vermont is clearly going for Obama this year, but the real question is the race for governor. Until recently, Jim Douglas looked like a shoo-in. But something unusual is happening. The Independent candidate Anthony Pollina has pulled ahead of the Democrat, Gaye Symington. Douglas is in the high 40s, Symington is stuck at around 20 percent, and Pollina has about 25. If nothing changes, Douglas would have the most votes but the state legislature would make the decision.

But what if the Obama surge, along with a successful insurgent campaign here, moved Pollina up another 10 points between now and election day. It takes money, but it could happen. Pollina is arguably the strongest, best qualified Independent candidate for governor in almost a century.

Douglas’s record on energy efficiency and Vermont Yankee is weak. As he has for decades, Douglas drifts along on a cloud of mediocrity and avoidance of responsibility. Basically, he’s complacent, and running in a state where the political leaders are Pat Leahy and Peter Welch, liberal Democrats, and Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist.

Right now, we’re watching “free market” capitalism go off a cliff, and potentially take the rest of us with it. There could be a snowball effect as people wake up and realize what’s at stake. If Pollina picks up another 10 points, it becomes anybody’s race. Specifically, it becomes more than likely that no candidate will get 50 percent of the vote statewide. And that could make a big difference.

If no one wins 50 percent, the Democratic-controlled legislature decides who takes office. The highest vote-getter is usually picked, but it’s not a rule. And the lawmakers – who are also elected, after all – get to use their own judgment. In 1976, they picked Republican Garry Buckley for Lieutenant Governor even though the Democrat had more votes.

It could happen. If Pollina gets substantially more votes than Symington, the state legislature could face a fundamental choice – confirm an out-of-touch Republican, at a time when the state and country is rejecting the GOP “brand,” or vote for change.

As the country goes for Obama, Vermont could have a chance to break the two-party monopoly. I could be wrong, but this looks potentially like a pretty good surprise.

To hear Greg Guma discuss the week’s news live, listen to "The Howie Rose Show," Fridays at Noon, EST on WOMM-LP. Streamed on The Radiator.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Maverick News: Tipping Points?

This Week: Mammals vs. Reptiles, Crying Socialist, Wolf Cries Coup, McCain’s Craps Habit, Economic Armageddon: week four, Presidential Death Match Update, this week’s “Wow Moment,” and Health Care as a Right

MAMMAL ALERT: A quarter of the world's mammals are threatened with extinction, and half are in decline. That was the word this week from 1,700 researchers, who studied all 5,487 species of mammals, from Thailand's insect-sized bumblebee to blue whales. About 188 species are “critically endangered” – on the verge of extinction. The Iberian lynx, less than 150 left. The main threats are habitat loss and hunting. Any good news? Yes. Five percent of species are recovering due to conservation efforts. This includes the European bison and the black-footed ferret, found in North America. The African elephant has moved down a notch, from "vulnerable" to "near threatened."

So, mammals are threatened. And men and women are mammals. And who might benefit from this? Possibly reptiles. They’re cold-blooded, their body temperature is regulated by their environment. As a result, they have few energy requirements and can go for long periods without food. They also expend less energy than warm-blooded animals and tend to move less. Sounds perfect for a climate change world.

They’re on every continent except the Antarctic. There are around 8,240 species, mostly snakes and lizards, mostly carnivorous, with smooth, pointy teeth for grabbing their prey. Unlike mammals, they lack teeth specialized for chewing. They tend to swallow their prey whole or in large chunks. So, mammals. Watch out for cold-blooded snakes and lizards. They’re out there, waiting to make their move.

THE POLITICS OF POLARIZATION: Here are McCain supporters outside a rally in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania last week. Many of them seem to think we’re on the verge of a socialist takeover of the US and Obama is a “Manchurian candidate” – a secret Arab terrorist sympathizer at best and possibly the anti-Christ. A Socialist takeover? Now, how could they have gotten that idea?

NAOMI WOLF CRIES COUP: While we’re on the subject of possible takeovers, consider this: On October 4, author Naomi Wolf announced that there has been a coup in the US. She was on Mind Over Matters, a KEXP 90.3 FM show in Seattle, discussing Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries, a new book about the possibility of fascism in this country and what to do about it. “A coup has taken place,” she said,” It’s happened.” Since then, her interview has become an Internet sensation.

The evidence? There’s a blueprint, she says, including expansion of the definition of terrorist, mass arrests, the arrest of journalists, and making it easier for the president to declare Marshall Law. Then she points to a C-Span clip of a speech by a California congressman who said the financial crisis was being used to intimidate lawmakers. Some members of Congress were apparently told that Marshall Law was a possibility if the bailout wasn’t passed. Wolf says it has happened. When? On Oct 1, when a brigade of the third infantry division was deployed in the US. Thus, we’re in a police state, where anyone can be called an enemy combatant, she says.

“On Oct 1, the coup in America took place,” Wolf said, “We have to think like Pakistanis.” Her advice is to immediately arrest the President and others involved, using the arguments made by Vincent Bugliosi to prosecute Bush, but doing it right now. She also suggests rejecting Homeland Security money at the local level, and setting up a fund for soldiers who refuse to take up arms against Americans. What about the election? You may ask. It’s “crazy”, she says, to believe that Bush will allow Obama to replace him.

So, there you go. I guess we can call off the last presidential debate. But in case we do have an election….

GAMBLING MAN: You’re supposed to include your gambling activity on Form 1040, line 21. You can deduct your losses, but only up to the amount of your winnings. In other words, you report winnings & claim losses. But John McCain's tax returns say nothing about gambling winnings or losses. The thing is: He’s a documented, avid craps player, known to play on impulse for 14 hours at a stretch.

He’s likely to have lost more than he won. But by not reporting his winnings, the percentage calculations built into the tax calculation are thrown off. If he gambled much, he probably underpaid his tax. But the real issue is that if people knew, for example, that he’d won $200,000 playing craps in Las Vegas, it might change people’s attitudes about how he’d be as president. Like, do we really want an obsessive gambler running the country?

According to writers Michael Scherer and Michael Weisskopf, he gave up the drinking bouts, but never kicked the yen for dice. He’s played on Mississippi riverboats, Indian land, in Caribbean craps pits and along the Las Vegas Strip. In 2005 he joined a group of journalists at a conference in Puerto Rico, offering betting strategies on request. John Weaver, McCain's former chief strategist, followed him to many a casino. “Craps opens up a window on a central thread constant in John's life,” he says. “Taking a chance, playing against the odds.”

Aides say he tends to play for a few thousand dollars at a time and avoids taking markers from the casinos, which he has helped regulate in Congress. “He never, ever plays on the house,” says Mark Salter, a McCain adviser. Several people familiar with his habit say it’s not financial. He just loves the thrill of winning and camaraderie at the table.

McCain's aides have urged him to pull back. In the heat of the GOP primary fight, on a visit to the Vegas Strip he announced that he was going to the casino floor. Aides stopped him, fearing a public relations disaster. McCain replied: ask the casino to take a table to a private room. That’s a high-roller privilege he’s used before. His aides refused again. “He obviously knows that this is on the borderline of what is acceptable," according to a Republican who has watched McCain play. “He just sort of revels in it.”

WOW MOMENT: This week it has to be when McCain pointed at Obama during the debate, in front of 50 million people, and said “that one.” It crystallized what people have been thinking – that the old man has had it. He sounded crotchety, angry, paternalistic. All of it. It will be played, I think, for years to come. A Presidential Death Match Hall of Shame Moment. At that moment, Americans began to realize something: the old maverick is going down.

But they’re still not sure they want a Black man in the White House. Bi-racial actually. But anyway, there could be a snag, nicknamed the Bradley effect (after Tom, a Black candidate for California governor). It means people may not tell the truth to pollsters, so Obama may not be as far ahead as he looks in the polls. It’s not a done deal yet. Race may yet play a role. The old man is down, but the bell hasn’t rung and what some folks will do when they actually go into the both – who knows?


ECONOMIC ARMAGEDDON, WEEK FOUR: Markets around the world haven’t been responding well to the economic rescue plan passed by the US Congress. Last Monday, the Dow plunged by 500 points, making the overall loss 5000 points in the last year. Recession? Obviously. Depression? It’s now a clear possibility. Reportedly, the smart money – meaning big time investors – are buying low and waiting for a rebound. Most people don’t have the luxury. 750,000 have lost their jobs just this year.

On Wednesday, European central banks and the Federal Reserve in the US cut interest rates in hopes of freeing up credit. As Bloomberg News put it, “an unprecedented coordinated effort to ease the economic effects of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.” And it’s just the beginning. A few hours later the Federal Reserve gave AIG a new $37 billion loan. That’s $120 billion total, of which executives and "high earners" used more than $400,000 on resort lodging and spas. On Thursday the market plunged again, over 650 points, down to 1995 levels.

University of Massachusetts at Amherst economics professor David Kotz says the $700 billion bailout hasn’t stemmed – or even slowed – the financial crisis.”It is great for the bankers,” he says, “but it does nothing to solve the underlying set of problems behind the financial crisis. Huge and growing income inequality forced millions of families to take out inadvisable loans to keep afloat.

"Deregulation allowed financial institutions and their executives to get rich by creating new securities based on loans to low-income families that magically appeared safe to hold. It worked as long as the housing bubble kept inflating. Once it burst, the inevitable result was both a financial crisis, due to all those bad securities, and a severe recession from the end of families' ability to keep paying their bills by borrowing.”

Almost everyone agrees that government intervention is needed. Beyond what’s happened already, Kotz recommends: stopping foreclosures by rewriting the unfair mortgage terms for millions of struggling families, and taking over problem banks and restructuring them, so taxpayers gain when the economy and financial system recover. Longer term, he says – reduce income inequality, regulate the entire financial system, and prevent dangerous speculative investments. In short, make government work for the vast majority.

PRESIDENTIAL DEATH MATCH UPDATE: It was strange: A young, graceful and articulate guy, and his old, stiff and sometimes cranky grandpa. “You gonna listen to ‘that one,’ he ain’t never done anything. I’ve been there, my friends. I’ve done it. I want to do it again.” In last week’s debate, John McCain proved he was a fighter. But he was swinging widely. His big idea was to buy up mortgages, a $300 billion plan to supposedly bail out homeowners (actually their banks). The base was not impressed. And his tone was openly contemptuous, sometimes even of people in the audience.

Barack Obama was cautious, didn’t say much that was new – except one big thing – but did take control toward the end, rocking McCain with his attack on the old man’s temperament. Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran, and Next Stop, Baghdad. Boom! A defining moment. From then on, Obama took control of the room. Afterward, McCain and his obviously uncomfortable wife Cindy left the hall within five minutes. Obama and Michelle hung around for a half hour, shaking hands and talking with people milling around the room. They worked the room.

I’m beginning to get Inherit the Wind vibes.


Obama is now officially the frontrunner, and seems to be gradually discovering his voice. After the debate, he hammered it home in a widely covered speech. “I can take four more weeks of John McCain and Sarah Palin’s attacks, but we can’t afford four more years of McCain’s Bush policies.” It was part of a new, killer stump speech that incorporates the major campaign and economic developments of the last few weeks. Health care is a right, he says flatly. Despite other vague or centrist ideas, he has taken an explicitly progressive position. Health care is a right, not a responsibility, not a privilege, a right. This is fundamental to finally getting universal health care system, and could eventually lead to it becoming an entitlement.

What’s an entitlement? A guarantee of access to benefits because of rights. As a legal term, it carries no value judgment: it simply means a right granted. Like, in the US we say social security is an entitlement program. During the Clinton years, debate over welfare led to it being challenged as an entitlement. Imagine: health care as an entitlement – a guarantee of access to health care for everyone.

Now, there is another, more negative kind of entitlement. The idea that someone believes he or she deserves something, some reward or benefit. You know, like by divine right, or the way some wealthy or elite people think they are just entitled to privileges – or to run the country. This election challenges one kind of entitlement – the assumption of privilege – and promises another – the right to health care.

I could be wrong. But it looks like the election could actually be about something that matters.

To hear Greg Guma discuss the week’s news live, listen to "The Howie Rose Show," Fridays at Noon, EST on WOMM-LP. Streamed on The Radiator

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

John McCain: Putting Himself First

Ok, the gloves are off. So says the McCain campaign, which now wants the presidential race to be about character. In that case, it’s time to look closely at the so-called maverick. Listen to Tim Dickinson, a Rolling Stone contributing editor who joined the Republican Party in 2000 to vote for McCain. Or read his feature story, Make Believe Maverick, which explores the life of this reckless, self-obsessed candidate.

Here’s Dickinson, discussing five big myths about McCain:

John Dramesi, who was also imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam, knew McCain in his War College days, and went on to command a wing of the Strategic War Command, puts it this way: “McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam, and he is now a different man…But he’s still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in.”

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sarah Palin: Filtering Out the Facts

We’re clearly in an era when facts have less value. Although many people blame the Bush administration, the irresponsibility of some media outlets has also played a part. Yet, when Sarah Palin debated Joe Biden last week she was promoting – perhaps inadvertently – a more extreme idea: facts really don’t matter at all anymore. Did she know that she was so often mistaken? That’s difficult to gauge, since she’s also not fond of questions and prefers to answer her own. Nevertheless, Palin’s performance suggests that, for some politicians, getting to talk to Americans “without a media filter” means constructing their own reality.

The following isn’t a complete list of Palin misstatements. It’s merely a start, covering 15 topics and 23 instances in which she strayed from reality in 90 minutes. Considering that Joe Biden was talking for half that time, it works out to about one distortion, factual error or lie every two minutes.

But first, Saturday Night Live's take on the debate:

1. TAXES: Palin repeated a false claim that Obama once voted in favor of higher taxes on “families” making as little as $42,000 a year. He didn’t. The budget bill in question called for an increase only on singles making that amount. A family of four wouldn’t have been affected unless they made at least $90,000 a year. Palin also repeated the attack that Obama voted for higher taxes 94 times, which the New York Times calls “false,” CNN says is “misleading,” and says is “inflated.” And she wrongly claimed that “millions of small businesses” would see tax increases under Obama’s tax proposals. At most, several hundred thousand business owners would see increases.

2. HEALTH CARE: Palin mis-characterized Barack Obama’s health plan when she said it would be “government-run,” according to the Congressional Quarterly, St. Petersburg Times and others. Obama's plan doesn't provide for universal coverage and only mandates insurance for kids. The system wouldn't be turned over to the government. Meanwhile, she said taxes wouldn’t go up under the McCain health care plan, a fact even his campaign has acknowledged isn’t true. She also said that McCain's plan was "budget neutral" when independent budget experts estimate it would cost tens of billions each year. The details are too fuzzy to allow for exact estimates.

3. FANNIE MAE/FREDDIE MAC: “It was John McCain who pushed so hard with the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform measures,” she said. But fact checkers say that’s “quite a stretch” and “barely true,” and that McCain was a “latecomer” to the discussion.

4. SPENDING INCREASES: Palin claimed that Obama is proposing “nearly a trillion dollars in new spending,” but didn’t mention that he has also proposed cuts to balance it out. CNN has debunked this attack as “misleading” and says it ignores the far larger cost of McCain’s tax cuts and spending hikes.

5. TOBACCO REGULATION: “Look at the tobacco industry” as an example of McCain pushing for even harder and tougher regulations, she suggested. Well, McCain opposed expanding the SCHIP children’s health insurance program for 5.8 million children because it would increase tobacco taxes.

6. EDUCATION: Palin said we need to make sure “that education in either one of our agendas, I think, absolute top of the line.” McCain has repeatedly favored tax cuts for the wealthy over funds for more teachers and class size reduction.

7. ENERGY: Palin claimed the US was sending "about $700 billon a year into foreign countries" for imported oil. The figure is actually $493 billion, according to the Department of Energy. She went after Biden on the 2005 energy bill, saying Obama voted in favor of legislation that provided millions of dollars in tax benefits for oil companies. Although Obama votes for the bill, which gave some tax breaks to oil companies, it cut other tax breaks and actually increased the tax burden on the industry by $300 million, according to the Congressional Research Service. The energy package also included tax credits for ethanol and clean coal that Obama wanted.

8. TROOP SUPPORT: She repeated what the Associated Press called the “highly misleading” attack that Obama opposed funding for the troops. notes that the same methodology would lead to the same conclusion for McCain.

9. THE SURGE: In a response to Biden, Palin claimed that McKiernan, who she called McClellan, did not say a surge wouldn’t work in Afghanistan. The day before he said, “The word I don’t use for Afghanistan is ’surge.’” McKiernan stressed that what is required is a “sustained commitment” to a counterinsurgency effort that could last many years and would ultimately require a political, not military, solution. Palin also erroneously claimed the US is down to pre-surge levels in Iraq. The number of troops on the ground is still higher and the number of combat brigades is the same as at the start of the surge in January 2007, according to Pentagon figures. Iraq troop levels before the surge were at 133,500. While US troop levels in Iraq have been in the 142,000 range, they are currently at around 150,000 because of an ongoing troop rotation. In addition, she criticized Obama's opposition to the "surge” and said, "The surge worked. Barack Obama still can't admit the surge works." Actually, Obama has said the surge "succeeded beyond our wildest dreams" from a military perspective.

10. AFGHANISTAN: “Obama had said that all we're doing in Afghanistan is air raiding villages and killing civilians and such a reckless, reckless comment and untrue comment again hurts our cause,” Palin said. “That's not what we are doing.” Unfortunately, the Associated Press says that Obama was right in discussing a critically important point about avoiding civilian casualties.

11. DARFUR DIVESTMENT: Palin claimed that “when I and others” found out that the state had money invested in Sudan that “we called for divestment.” In reality, Palin’s appointees worked to kill a Darfur divestment plan.

12. GLOBAL WARMING: “I don’t want to argue about the causes” for global warming, she said. But Palin has clearly taken the position that she doesn’t believe it is man-made. She also falsely claimed that she was the first governor to form a climate change subcabinet, when at least 28 states had already taken action.

13. MCCAIN’S CONSISTENCY: Palin said McCain” doesn't tell one thing to one group and then turns around and tells something else to another group.” But that’s what he has done on immigration, telling Hispanic leaders he was for comprehensive reform instead of the enforcement-focused approach he has taken with conservatives.

14. PARTISANSHIP: McCain is “known for putting partisan politics aside to just get the job done,” Palin claimed. Yet he has voted with Bush 90 percent of the time in the Senate and has bragged about his support for Bush on important issues.

15. APPOINTMENTS: “You do what I did as governor, she claimed. “And you appoint people regardless of party affiliation. Democrats, independents, Republicans, you walk the walk, don't just talk the talk.” Actually, she repeatedly appointed friends and supporters to positions for which they weren’t qualified.

Biden’s performance certainly wasn’t misstatement-free. For example, he wrongly claimed that McCain “voted the exact same way” as Obama on the budget bill that contained the increase on singles making as little as $42,000 a year. McCain voted against it. Biden was referring to an amendment that didn't address taxes at that income level. He also wrongly claimed that McCain had said "he wouldn't even sit down" with the government of Spain. McCain didn't reject a meeting; he simply refused to commit himself one way or the other during an interview. Still, Palin may have set some sort of record.

Of course, her job as candidate has little to do with what she knows (or doesn’t). It’s to be the “barracuda” that McCain enjoys so much, a mindless fighting tool used to attack his opponent with any lines her handlers think will work. As she's told us herself, she reads anything people put in front of her.

Now that the Republican ticket is becoming truly desperate, the tactics will get increasingly vicious. The charge that Obama thinks so little of the country that he’s “palling around with terrorists who would target their own country,” leveled by Palin this weekend, is just the beginning. Truth? Facts? For Palin and McCain, they’ve become officially irrelevant.

Additional contributions to this list are welcome. Please stick to facts and provide your sources.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Maverick News: Extreme Makeover Time


BLOCKING THE VOTE: Just in time for the elections, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law has released one of the first serious examinations of voter purging. That’s the practice of removing voters from registration lists in order to update state registration rolls. The center studied purge practices in twelve states – Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin – and concluded (no surprise) that "election officials across the country are routinely striking millions of voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation."

Myrna Pérez, counsel at the Brennan Center, said, "Far too frequently, however, eligible, registered citizens show up to vote and discover their names have been removed from the voter lists because election officials are maintaining their voter rolls with little accountability and wildly varying standards. ... Our report finds the following: According to the US Election Assistance Commission, between 2004 and 2006, thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia reported purging more than 13 million voters from registration rolls. ... Voter Purges finds four problematic practices with voter purges that continue to threaten voters in 2008: purges rely on error-ridden lists; voters are purged secretly and without notice; bad 'matching' criteria mean that thousands of eligible voters will be caught up in purges; and insufficient oversight leaves voters vulnerable to erroneous or manipulated purges.”

Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Center’s Democracy Program, added, "Given the close margins by which elections are won, the number of people wrongfully purged can make a difference.”

The report provides some examples of recent purges:

* In Mississippi earlier this year, a local election official discovered that another official had wrongly purged 10,000 voters from her home computer just a week before the presidential primary.

* In Muscogee, Georgia this year, a county official purged 700 people from the voter lists, supposedly because they were ineligible to vote due to criminal convictions. The list included people who’d never even received a parking ticket.

* In Louisiana, including areas hit hard by hurricanes, officials purged approximately 21,000 voters, ostensibly for registering to vote in another state, without sufficient voter protections.

* In 2004, Florida planned to remove 48,000 "suspected felons" from its voter rolls even though many of them were eligible to vote. When the flawed process generated a list of 22,000 African Americans to be purged and only 61 voters with Hispanic surnames, in spite of Florida’s sizable Hispanic population, it took pressure from voting rights groups to stop Florida officials from using the purge list.

THE DEBATES: Last week Barack Obama and John McCain took the stage, and most people saw it either as a draw or a narrow win for Obama. On October 2, it was Biden and Palin. If there was any news, it boils down to this. Sarah Palin didn’t self-destruct, as many people expected, and, like Dick Cheney, she thinks the Vice President should have more power. As I’ve said before, be afraid.

VP Debate Highlight Reel

: On the NPR show Fresh Air Thursday, former CIA operative Robert Baer, author of the new book, The Devil We Know, said he and most CIA agents he knows think Osama bin Laden may be dead. It might be a good idea to do a little more research on that before we charge into the border between Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan to find him.


ECONOMIC ARMAGEDDON, WEEK THREE: Let’s catch up. Last weekend Congressional leaders worked out a deal on the so-called rescue plan. Then, on Monday morning, Sen. McCain declared victory – just before the bill went down to defeat. Two-thirds of House Republicans, plus a smaller group of Democratic populists, just said no. Republicans blamed Nancy Pelosi – except for McCain, who blamed Obama.

By the end of the day the stock market was down 777 points, the largest one-day point drop in anyone’s memory, and Citigroup agreed to buy the retail banking operations of Wachovia, which was on the verge of collapse.

On Tuesday, both Obama and McCain released new campaign ads, each blaming the other party for creating the crisis. Meanwhile, the stock market bounced back by 485 points.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted on a revised plan, now a 451-page bill called The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. It included some new tax breaks – called sweeteners or pork, depending on your point of view: one for bicycle commuting, sought by an Oregon Congressman; a solar tax credit, a priority for Arizona, which hopes to be the "Silicon Valley of solar energy;" $8 billion in tax relief for those hit by natural disasters in the Midwest, Texas and Louisiana; help for rural schools, aimed mainly at lawmakers in the West; extending the deductibility of state and local taxes for people in states without income taxes, including Florida and Texas; and new tax breaks worth nearly $500 million for movie and TV producers who make films in the US. There was also a proposed hike in the limit on federally insured deposits, up to $250,000 from the current $100,000 cap. It passed with 74 votes. Vermont’s Senate delegation split its vote, with Pat Leahy saying yes and Bernie Sanders voting no.

On Thursday – as if not noticing – the market was down again, this time by 350 points. The revised plan went back to the House. And today, with plenty of hand-wringing on both sides of the aisle, lawmakers passed it on a 263-171 vote. Bush signed it into law within hours. Touchdown! But do they think it will solve the problem? No so much.

So, what’s missing from the plan? Here are just four examples. 1) A moratorium on foreclosures and amendment of the Bankruptcy Code to let people modify their loans and stay in their homes. 2) Extension of the ban on short-selling in financial stocks. 3) $50 billion in revenue sharing for state and local governments hit by the decline in tax revenues stemming from falling property values. And 4) Bernie Sanders’ proposal for a five-year, 10 percent surtax on income over $500,000 to raise more than $300 billion in revenue.


For almost 30 years Republicans have been telling people government is the problem. Now, when the financial system looks like it might take us into a Post- Industrial Depression, is it any surprise that people don’t trust government to solve the problem? The reasons why conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats voted against the bailout plan are different. But the response of the general public isn’t ideological. It’s primal. They’re mad at everyone, and don’t trust their own leaders.

Some people are so suspicious that they think either the elections this November will be rigged, or may not even be held. A fixed election is certainly possible. We’re still seeing the purging of voter lists, and with high turnout and lots of new voters we’re likely to see other obstructions at polling places – not to mention recounts afterward.

But the idea that the election will be cancelled goes too far. Here’s why. The people who run this country want to keep running it. And to do that they have to convince you that the basic system still works. Cancelling the election would make America no different than any other dictatorship. Then we’d really be ready for a revolution. And that’s the last thing our rulers want to see.

I remember a time, back in 1972, when people worried that Nixon might find some excuse to call off the elections. Obviously, he found other ways to make sure he won. In 2000 the Supreme Court decided the election. That’s one way to go. In 2004 we had allegedly manipulated voting machines. Obviously, there are lots of ways to get the result those in power want.

The question is: what do they want this time? Some say they want McCain. I disagree. The Republicans didn’t even want him. And the smart money has been with the Democrats – like it was in 1976 – for quite a while. Electing Obama sends just the message they want: the system still works. Obama puts a new, friendly face out in front – a happy, Hollywood ending to the nightmare we’re in.

That doesn’t mean he’ll definitely win. But everything possible will be done to reassure the public. Job one right now is to restore confidence. Cancelling the elections clearly won’t do that. The real question is how far our overseers will go – and what they can get away with – to give us a believable outcome.

I could be wrong, but it looks like government is about to get an extreme makeover.