Friday, November 28, 2008

Maverick Media: Unintended Consequences

This week: To shop or not; Obama’s cabinet: small change; Bailout fever: The confidence gap, small bank complaints, and the bottom line; Obama’s donor base; News fatigue; and the costs of Daylight Savings. Media Watch: Who Americans trust and holiday movies. Plus, Drug News: Afghanistan and the US fails its own tests. Live Broadcast Friday, November 28, Noon EST, on The Howie Rose Show (WOMM), streamed on The Radiator.

TO SHOP OR NOT? Retailers often call the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday — the day many of them supposedly become profitable for the year. But despite all the talk these days about getting the economy out of the basement, some people still feel it would be better not to shop at all. Since the early 1990s they’ve called it Buy Nothing Day.

This year, the day is again being pushed by Adbusters and performance artist Bill Talen, aka Reverend Billy, who tries to convert people to his anti-consumerist "Church of Stop Shopping." Adbusters is promoting a "Credit Card Cut-Up," volunteers in a shopping mall with scissors offering to put an end to high interest rates and mounting debt with one cut. They also plan to stage "Zombie Walks," in which the "cheerful dead" wander around malls, marveling at the blank expressions of shoppers. Meanwhile, if you’re in a Toys R Us, beware the "Whirl-mart;" that’s 10 or so people silently pushing shopping carts around in a conga line without ever buying anything.

On past Buy Nothing Days, protesters have taken to malls with signs and banners, organized gatherings of anti-Santa Clauses, and encouraged shoppers to think if they really need the items they are shopping for.

The Mall of America, a repeated Buy Nothing target, was invaded by zombies for the 2007 documentary What Would Jesus Buy?, made by Reverend Billy and his Church. Since the movie’s website has links for visitors to order the DVD, maybe the Reverend doesn't want to stop all shopping.

Buy Nothing Day has been criticized as pointless, since many people who don't shop on Friday will go shopping soon. But the basic idea is to make people think about their spending habits, or maybe repair or recycle things instead of buying new stuff.

TOO MUCH INFORMATION. Young people are showing signs of news fatigue; that is, they appear debilitated by information overload and unsatisfying news experiences. That’s the conclusion of an Associated Press study of news consumption. Unfortunately, this leads to a learned helplessness response. The more overwhelmed or unsatisfied people are, the less effort they’re willing to put in.

Part of the problem may be that many people consume their news in airport lounges and taxicabs, on smart phones and PDAs, through e-mail and Internet search engines. Edward Hallowell, a Boston-area psychiatrist, says many of us are suffering from what he calls an attention-deficit trait, a culturally induced form of attention-deficit disorder.

In this environment, with people bombarded by more information than they can possibly absorb, journalism may need to reinvent itself as a source for people to assimilate, understand, and make sense of the news. In a news fatigue world, the most valuable journalism may be the kind that explains things.

DAYLIGHT – WHAT SAVINGS? It’s widely believed that daylight savings time has an agricultural basis, and is meant to save energy. If people moved up their summer schedules by an hour, Benjamin Franklin once argued, they could live by "sunshine rather than candles" in the evenings.

Today about 76 countries alternate between standard and daylight time. Energy conservation was the motivation during World Wars I and II and the oil embargo of the 1970s. It remains so today - even though there is little scientific evidence to suggest daylight time actually helps us cut back on electricity use and some to suggest that it ends up costing more.

A study was conducted recently in Indiana, where daylight time was instituted statewide only in 2006. Before that year, daylight time was in effect in just a handful of counties. The change offered a unique way to measure the overall effect on residential electricity consumption. The amount of energy used by households during the two years before they switched was compared with the amounts used during the year afterward.

Result: Daylight time caused a 1 percent increase in residential electricity use, though the effect varied from month to month. Daylight time costs Indiana households around $3.29 a year in higher electricity bills, or about $9 million for the state. Health and other costs of increased pollution emissions went from $1.7 to $5.5 million per year.

What explains this? Daylight time reduces demand for household lighting, but increases demand for heating in the early spring and late fall (in the mornings) and, more important, for cooling on summer evenings. In short, Franklin was right about candles, but didn’t consider the impact of air-conditioners.


DONOR RECAP. Barack Obama's donors may not have been quite as different as we thought. Throughout the election, we heard that he received about half of his contributions in amounts of $200 or less. After a more thorough analysis by the Federal Election Commission, however, it appears that repeaters and large donors were more important for Obama than analysts had appreciated.

"The myth is that money from small donors dominated Barack Obama's finances," notes Michael Malbin, director of the Campaign Finance Institute. "Obama's fundraising was impressive, but the reality does not match the myth." Although an unusually high 49 percent of Obama's funds came in contributions of $200 or less, only 24 percent of his funds from donors whose total contribution was $200 or less. This is similar to the 25 percent for George W. Bush in 2004, 20 percent for John Kerry in 2004, 21 percent for John McCain this year, 13 percent for Hillary Clinton, and 38 percent for Howard Deal in 2004.

OBAMA’S CABINET: SMALL CHANGE. Most of the Obama cabinet has been announced. The National Security Team will include Defense Secretary Bob Gates, asked to stay on for at least one year, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and Retired Marine General James Jones, former NATO chief in Europe, as National Security Adviser. Word on the street is that James Steinberg will be named deputy secretary of state, Susan Rice will become ambassador to the UN, and retired Navy Admiral Dennis Blair will be tapped as director of national intelligence. Blair formerly commanded US forces in the Pacific.

The Clinton influence is obvious. Steinberg served as deputy national security adviser under President Bill Clinton, and Rice was assistant secretary of state for African affairs. But both are also members of the Trilateral Commission’s North American Group. Other North American Trilateral members in Obama’s inner circle include Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Michael Froman of Citigroup, and former Congressman Dick Gephardt, along with Dennis Ross, Middle East envoy for Clinton and the first President Bush, Warren Christopher, Clinton National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, and the Commission’s North American Honorary Chairman Paul Volcker, who has just been named to head Obama’s new advisory group on jobs.

For the Domestic Team, we’ve had announcements about Eric Holder, another Clinton official, as Attorney General, former US Senator Tom Daschle to head Health and Human Services, and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano for Homeland Security.

Let’s look at Napolitano. As governor of Arizona, she’s been tough on immigration, especially businesses who hire undocumented people. If they violate a new state law twice, they now face what she calls a "business death penalty" – basically taking away their licenses. However, she opposes punishing immigrants who are already here and has vetoed bills that would have prevented illegal immigrants from getting state tuition assistance and require the police to arrest them. She also opposes a border fence. "You show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder," she has said, and favors a "temporary worker program with no amnesty."

Obama wants Timothy Geithner, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to head his Economic Team as Secretary of the Treasury, while Lawrence Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, serving as Director of the National Economic Council. Geithner and Summers are touted as crisis managers. But they didn’t do so well in East Asia, helping to bring on a regional crisis in 1997 by pressuring governments to de-regulate international financial flows. At the time they insisted that all bailout money go through the IMF, and delayed aid until most of the damage was done.

What do they have in common? Ivy League backgrounds, stints at institutions IMF and World Bank, and activity in or very near private sector banking. They’re friends, have worked together before, and, for better and worse, have been actively involved in shaping the global financial architecture we have today.

The media say Obama's cabinet is mainly non-ideological. Yet many have a record of support for the corporate-friendly NAFTA trade pact, cutting public assistance programs under the guise of "reform," and deregulatory policies in the financial sector.

Overall, the Obama Team is a group of Washington insiders, widely considered among the brightest on the scene. We’ll see.


CONFIDENCE GAP. Citigroup joined the ranks of bailed out financial institutions last week, but the decision hasn’t inspired much confidence. According to economist Thomas Freidman, it revealed instead that “some of our country’s best-paid bankers were overrated dopes who had no idea what they were selling, or greedy cynics who did know and turned a blind eye. But it wasn’t only the bankers. This financial meltdown involved a broad national breakdown in personal responsibility, government regulation and financial ethics.

“Citigroup was involved in, and made money from, almost every link in that chain. And the bank’s executives, including, sad to see, the former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, were clueless about the reckless financial instruments they were creating, or were so ensnared by the cronyism between the bank’s risk managers and risk takers (and so bought off by their bonuses) that they had no interest in stopping it.”

These are the people whom taxpayers bailed out to the tune of what could be more than $300 billion. And we’re told that there was no choice.

The choice of Geithner to head Treasury raises some eyebrows. Many question his role in allowing the investment bank Lehman Brothers to collapse into bankruptcy, Like Summers, Geithner served at the Treasury under Robert Rubin, helping manage the Russian credit crisis in the late 1990s. He also played a role in the bailouts of Brazil, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico and Thailand. More recently, he helped shape the Bush administration's erratic responses to the current financial meltdown, up to and including the Citigroup bailout.

The question isn’t whether Geithner and Summers are smart talent, but what they’ve learned from their mistakes. As treasury secretary in 2000, Summers pushed the law that deregulated derivatives, the financial instruments – now known as toxic assets – that spread the financial losses from reckless lending around the globe. He ignored critics who warned of dangers to come. At the New York Fed, Geithner was a ringmaster of the current bailouts. His involvement includes the flip-flop in September when a no-new-bailouts policy allowed Lehman Brothers to go under - only to be followed by the even costlier bailouts of AIG and Citigroup.

So, what do they know now that they didn’t a couple of months ago?

FAIRNESS ALERT. Wall Street may be a little happier in recent days, but many small community banks feel that the government is ignoring them in favor of the big boys. Describing her reaction to the Citigroup bailout, Cindy Blankenship, who founded the Bank of the West with her husband in 1986, says “appalled is not too strong a word." Her bank has since grown to eight locations in Northern Texas and has about $280 million in assets.

Blankenship and other small bank owners are upset that the executives leading Citi and other banks are getting help but not being held personally responsible. In small banks, she notes, all the key decision makers have a large financial stake in the bank. If it goes broke, they lose their own investment.

"We haven't committed these sins but yet, our reputation is tarnished and yet, we still aren't too big to fail," she says. "If I had gone out and done what the big banks did, I would have been shut down."

THE BOTTOM LINE. How much have all our bailouts cost so far? Up to $4.6 trillion, the largest outlay in US history. In fact, crunching the inflation adjusted numbers it turns out to have cost more than all of the biggest budget government expenditures of the past combined:

The Marshall Plan (which cost $12.7 billion, or $115.3 billion adjusted for inflation);The Louisiana Purchase ($15 million, or $217 billion in today’s dollars);The Race to the Moon ($36.4 billion, adjusted $237 billion); The S&L Crisis: Cost ($153 billion, adjusted $256 billion); The Korean War: Cost ($54 billion, adjusted $454 billion); The New Deal: Cost ($32 billion, adjusted $500 billion); The Invasion of Iraq: ($551 billion, adjusted $597 billion); The Vietnam War: Cost ($111 billion, adjusted $698 billion); and NASA ($416.7 billion, adjusted $851.2 billion). The total cost of all of these: $3.92 trillion.


THE PEOPLE SPEAK. Who do Americans trust most to deliver the news? According a new Zogby poll commissioned by the Independent Film Channel, it’s the web – over TV and print combined. But among TV news sources, Fox News tops the list with 39.3 percent of those polled, beating out CNN at 16 percent and MSNBC at 15 percent. The results are great news for Fox in defending its claims of being "Fair and Balanced." Oddly enough, more people in the poll described themselves as Democrats than Republicans. Not so oddly, most have little faith in the media at all.

The online survey, taken two days after the recent elections, found that three out of four people think that the media influenced the outcome, and about the same number think that the media in general is biased. The New York Times was the most trusted newspaper and Rush Limbaugh (with 12.5 percent) came out on top among news personalities, closely followed by Fox's Bill O'Reilly (10.1 percent). Elizabeth Hasselbeck, Stephen Colbert and Chris Matthews were the least trusted personalities, all scoring under 2 percent.

FILM PREVIEWS. Tis the season for big budget – and often Oscar worthy – films. This year the Holiday offerings range from true political stories and Nazi sagas to the usual assortment of fantasy and romance tales. Among the true stories are Milk – with Gus VanSant directing Sean Penn and Josh Brolin; Che – Steven Sodeberg directs Benicio Del Toro as the revolutionary leader; Frost/Nixon, which dramatizes the infamous 1977 interviews; and Valkyrie, in which Tom Cruise dons an eye patch for Bryan Singer in a partly true WWII tale about a plot to kill Hitler. Other Nazi-related films on the horizon include Ralph Fiennes in The Reader, about a law student whose former lover is on trial for war crimes; Daniel Craig resisting the nazis in Defiance; and Viggo Mortensen as an unwilling Nazi propagandist in Good. In the fantasy category, there is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, with Brad Pitt aging in reverse; Seven Pounds, a Will Smith tear jerker; The Day the Earth Stood Still – Keanu Reeves as an alien in a remake of a classic 1951 film; and The Spirit, Frank Miller’s return to the big screen with another high octane graphic novel. For date nights, we’ll have Revolutionary Road – Leo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet are back together in a Sam Mendes romance about post-war disillusionment; Australia – Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman doing the epic thing; and Marley & Me – Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and a dog trying three-way romantic comedy. Comedy offerings also include Jim Carrey in the Yes Man, and Adam Sandler in Bedtime Stories. Plus, The Tale of Desperaeux, an animated feature for the kids, in which big ears become a metaphor for being different.


AFGHANISTAN TAKES THE LEAD. Opium production in Afghanistan has increased by 150 percent since NATO arrived in 2001. According to Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, "Afghanistan has become the absolute leader in narcotics production, producing 93 percent of the world's entire opiates. Afghan drug dealers have in two years set up the successful production of cannabis with over 70,000 hectares of land being cultivated, taking Afghanistan into second place in the world behind Morocco in terms of the cultivation of such drugs." Since the Taliban regime was overthrown in the 2001 US-led campaign, the country has remained the world's leading producer of heroin. According to the UN, Afghanistan's opium production increased from 6,100 tons in 2006 to 8,200 tons in 2007.

US FAILING DRUG TESTS. Two recent reports show that the arrest and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug users in the US have done little to reduce the use and trafficking of non-legal drugs. A recent study by Jon Gettman of the George Mason University School of Public Policy finds that the "Bush Administration anti-drug policies have been unsuccessful in reducing the demand for and use of marijuana and other illegal drugs." Gettman also reports that the government's Office of National Drug Control Policy didn’t come close to reaching its recent goal: reduction in the use of non-legal drugs among adults by 25 percent between 2002 and 2007. After five years, use among adults declined by less than one percent.

Of the six programs designed by the Office to reach its goal, the Bush Administration's Office of Management and Budget found that only one program rated an "adequate" grade. The other five were rated "ineffective" or "results-not-demonstrated."

In another new report, Families Against Mandatory Minimums finds that "No conclusive studies demonstrate any positive impact of federal mandatory minimum sentences on the rate at which drugs are being manufactured, imported, and trafficked throughout the country." Congress first enacted mandatory sentences for drug offenses in 1951, but repealed the law in 1970 because it wasn’t reducing drug use. Then, in 1986, Congress set new mandatory sentences aimed at big-time drug traffickers. In 1988, the law was expanded to apply to simple possession of crack cocaine.

By 2008, more than half of all federal prisoners were serving time for drug offenses. But instead of filling federal prisons with drug kingpins, 66 percent of crack cocaine offenders in 2005 were low-level dealers, lookouts and couriers. Only 33 percent were higher-level suppliers. Instead of ending the drug war, mandatory sentences keep prisons full of nonviolent offenders.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Maverick Podcasts: Mixed Forecasts

Deconstructing politics with Greg Guma, FP Cassini, Sonny Fortune and Kevin Ryan. News headlines and outrageous dialogues. This edition: Bush Watch – secret operations and lame duck tactics, Alternative GOP futures, Barack as Marketer-in-Chief, Gay Marriage Update: Recent votes, Vermont could be next, Forecasting the next crisis, Cheney’s swan song, and drug news. Greg’s Comment: Honeymoon in Limbo. Vermont: Election Postmortem & First Amendment showdown in Burlington. PSA: The Howie Rose Show seeks new segment producers.

Special Segment: Teacher Genese Grill discusses Burlington College, her recent firing, and the management style of College President Jane Sanders, wife of Vermont’s Independent US Senator. Greg Guma stops by.

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. Click to hear this edition of Maverick News @ Noon or the Genese Grill interview, originally aired on November 14, 2008, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Thanks to Big Heavy World and Sonny Fortune.

Check the sidebar for other installments.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Maverick News: Hype, Hope & Hoaxes

This week: Cheney’s first indictment – in Texas no less, Why a bail out of the auto industry may be necessary, Fake campaign news and viral e-mails, the latest corporate scam – shrinking products, How Obama auditioned for power, and Cigarettes vs. Grass. Greg’s Comment: The Hype of Hope. Live Broadcast Friday, November 21, Noon EST, on The Howie Rose Show (WOMM), streamed on The Radiator.

RISE OF THE BLACK PRINCE. Here’s a bedtime story: Once upon a time a charismatic prince named Barack appeared magically (and nationally) by giving an instantly famous keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Sounds believable, doesn’t it? But, as Ken Silverstein revealed in Harpers two years ago, by this time Obama “had already undergone an equally successful but much quieter audition with Democratic Party leaders and fund-raisers, without whose support he would surely never have been chosen for such a prominent role at the convention.”

The first favorable elite assessment of Obama reportedly came in October, 2003. Vernon Jordan, the well-known power broker who chaired Bill Clinton's presidential transition team in 1992, placed calls to roughly 20 of his friends and invited them to a fund-raiser at his home. That event – not some living room cell group meeting in Bill Ayers’ home – “marked his entry into a well-established Washington ritual – fund-raising parties and meet-and-greets where potential stars are vetted by fixers, donors, and lobbyists."

Obama passed with shining colors. At social meetings with big "players" from the financial, legal and lobbyist sectors, Obama impressed people like Gregory Craig – a leading attorney, former special counsel to the White House, and now Obama’s pick to do it again; Mike Williams, legislative director of the Bond Market Association; Tom Quinn, partner at a top corporate law firm, Venable, and a leading Democratic power broker; and Robert Harmala, another Venable partner and big player in Democratic circles.

The good word about Obama spread through Washington's blue-chip law firms, lobby shops, and political offices, going massive after his win in the March 2004 Democratic primary. Elite financial, legal, and lobbyist contributions streamed in at a rapid and accelerating pace. The "good news" for insiders? Obama's "star quality" wouldn’t be directed against the elite segments of the business class. He was, wrote Silverstein, "someone the rich and powerful could work with." According to Obama biographer and Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell, in 2003 and early 2004, Obama cultivated support by advocating fiscal restraint, calling for pay-as-you-go government and singing the praises of free trade and charter schools. He "moved beyond being an obscure good-government reformer to being a candidate more than palatable to the moneyed and political establishment."

"On condition of anonymity," Silverstein noted, "one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn't see him as a 'player.' The lobbyist added: 'What's the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?'"

AND THE OSCAR FOR FAKE NEWS GOES TO…. One of the lingering questions of campaign 08: Did Sarah Palin know that Africa is a continent? To get to the truth, let’s follow the source. Fox News broke the story, quoting an unnamed McCain person. Who was the source? The name finally popped up on a blog last week, and was then aired by MSNBC’s David Shuster. Supposedly, McCain Policy Advisor Martin Eisenstadt was the source of the leaks.

Trouble is, Martin Eisenstadt doesn't exist. He has a blog, but it’s a put-on. He’s a senior fellow at a Think Tank, the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy. But here’s where it breaks down. The Harding Institute, named for one of the least regarded US presidents, is nothing more than a fake website. TV clips of and documentaries about Eisenstadt are also fake. Claiming to be the source for the Africa charge is just the latest ruse. It’s an elaborate hoax that’s been going on for months.

Eisenstadt was created by two filmmakers, Eitan Gorlin and Dan Mirvish. As The New York Times has reported, they succeeded in fooling countless media outlets, including The New Republic and The Los Angeles Times, into believing he was a real political insider. Over a year and a half, under the guise of Eisenstadt, they repeatedly infiltrated political coverage, as media outlets picked up on their fake political commentary and video clips.

They say they created Eisenstadt, played by Gorlin, to help them pitch a TV show based on the character. At this point, there are some great moments and episodes of a fake BBC documentary, The Last Republican, on YouTube. Take a look:

Last June they produced what appeared to be an interview with Eisenstadt on Iraqi television promoting construction of a casino in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Then they sent out a news release in which he apologized. Outraged Iraqi bloggers protested the casino idea. In October, Eisenstadt blogged that Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, was closely related to Charles Keating, the disgraced former savings and loan chief. It wasn’t true, but other bloggers ran with it.

After Election Day, Fox News cited anonymous McCain aides as having claimed that Palin didn’t know Africa was a continent. Palin’s people went after the anonymous source for taking the governor's comment out of context. Mirvish and Gorlin weren't the source, but they jumped at the opportunity to make fun of what they call the media's propensity to use anonymous sources. On November 10, they posted a blog entry about the Fox report in which Eisenstadt claimed to be coming forward as the anonymous source who leaked the Palin blunder. Shuster ran with it.

MSNBC corrected Shuster’s mistake. But groups like Source Watch, a media watchdog project by the Center for Media and Democracy, had been warning about Eisenstadt and the Harding Institute for months. So, Martin Eisenstadt is a hoax. Still, the question about Palin’s geographical knowledge remains unanswered.

DIGITAL RUMORS. Even without fake news and the occasional hoax, viral emails have emerged as a form of stealth propaganda recently, noticeably in the recent US presidential campaign. Barack Obama was dogged with false claims that he was a Muslim, that he refused to salute the American flag, that he wasn’t a US citizen, and so on. Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, attempted to trace the chain of one of those emails and found what the Washington Post called "valuable insight into the way political information circulates, mutates and sometimes devastates in the digital age."

The anonymous nature of viral emails, combined with the word-of-mouth way that they spread, makes them hard to counter. "This kind of misinformation campaign short-circuits judgment," Allen said. "It also aggressively disregards the fundamental principle of free societies that one be able to debate one's accusers."

INCREDIBLE SHRINKING PRODUCTS. You may not have noticed, but prices on your favorite grocery items are going up. Many companies have found a sneaky new way to raise prices without losing customers to less expensive brands: by shrinking their packaging.

A jar of Skippy peanut butter is the same height and circumference it’s always been. But now it has a hidden, inward "dimple" on the bottom that decreases the amount the jar holds by two ounces. Boxes of breakfast cereal: they appear to be the same height and width as always. But manufacturers have reduced the depth of the boxes from front to back, decreasing the amount of cereal they hold. Rolls of Scott toilet tissue contain the same number of sheets (1,000), but the length of each sheet has been cut from 4 to 3.7 inches. And a can of Starkist Tuna has been downsized from six to five ounces.

When asked about the shrinkage, most companies point to higher costs for ingredients, manufacturing and fuel. Can consumers fight back? Yes, by refusing to buy from manufacturers who engage in this tactic.

LET THE PROSECUTIONS BEGIN. It would be like getting Al Capone for tax evasion: Dick Cheney has actually been indicted in Texas on charges related to alleged prisoner abuse in federal detention centers. A grand jury in Willacy County, right near the US-Mexico border, has brought the indictments against Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the urging of the county DA, Juan Angel Guerra.

According to the Associated Press, the indictment stems from Cheney's investment in the Vanguard Group — an investment management company that reportedly has interests in the prison companies in charge of the detention centers. It also charges that Gonzales halted an investigation into abuse at the detention centers while he was attorney general. So, not murder – Bugliosi style, just self-dealing and obstruction of justice maybe.

Sounds like a start. But it gets squirrely from here. Guerra has also indicted Democratic state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., and Lucio’s lawyer calls Guerra a "one man circus." We shall see. Exhibit One: In the March 2008 Democratic Primary, 70 percent of the Willacy County voters to remove Guerra as Willacy County DA. In a few weeks, he’s out of there. So, Lucio’s people say he’s just seeking revenge on those he sees as political enemies. And Cheney’s people: "The vice president has not received an indictment," they say. Stay tuned.

CRASH TALK. Is a bailout of the auto industry really needed? Some say the big companies are destined to go bankrupt, either now or in a few years. If that’s true, why bother saving them, right? The problem is that the economies of Michigan and Ohio are still heavily dependent on the Big Three. If they go under at the moment, a whole group of suppliers will suddenly incur large losses due to the money owed to them, as well as their lost orders. This will lead to a large second wave of bankruptcies as suppliers go under. State and local governments will see plunging tax revenue.

This would be extremely painful for the region at any time, but it could be devastating in the middle of the current recession. The federal government would have to step in with large amounts of money, helping governments in the region to provide essential services and support the unemployed workers.

On the other hand, in two or three years it’s reasonable to hope that the economies of Michigan and Ohio will have rebounded, at least enough to withstand a bankruptcy if it happened. So, if you’re opposed to helping out the auto industry, you might want to consider the short-term consequences.


LOOK WHO’S SMOKING WHAT. According to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control, fewer Americans are smoking cigarettes than at any time in modern history. "The number of US adults who smoke has dropped below 20 percent for the first time on record," Reuters reports. This is less than half the percentage (42 percent) of Americans who smoked cigarettes during the 1960s.

Imagine that. In the past 40 years, tens of millions of Americans have voluntarily quit smoking a legal, yet highly addictive intoxicant. Many others have refused to start. And they've made the decision without ever being threatened with criminal prosecution and arrest, imprisonment, probation, and drug testing.

By contrast, during this same period of time, state and local police have arrested some 20 million Americans for pot law violations – primarily for violations no greater than simple possession. And yet marijuana use among the public has skyrocketed from an annual rate of 600,000 new users in 1965 to 2.5 million annual new users today.

There are lessons to be learned. To start, tobacco, though harmful to health, is a legally regulated commodity. Sellers are licensed and held accountable by federal and state laws. Users are restricted by age. Advertising and access is limited by state and federal governments. And health warnings regarding the drug's use are based upon credible science. In contrast, marijuana remains an unregulated black market commodity. Sellers are often entrepreneurs who, for the most part, operate undetected and can sell their product to anyone.


The Hype of Hope

You can almost feel the air leaking out of the change bubble that has been inflating this year. As the new political messiah begins to reveal his brain trust it becomes harder to continue believing the pre-election hype. Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, Rahm Emanuel, Gregory Craig, Eric Holder – the first names announced for the Obama administration suggest that we may be heading forward into the past.

But it’s still too soon to know whether our expectations are just a bit high or the promise of real change turns out to be a hoax.

In the past, the revelation that we’ve been fooled has often led to a greater wisdom. In the 19th Century, we had the 1835 announcement of life on the moon, which helped expand the readership of the New York Sun, the Cardiff Giant (a fake missing link), and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic forgery about a Jewish plot to control the world. As a result, we realized that the media will sometimes create news to increase income, and that hate-filled rumors have considerable power.

Sometimes hoaxes appeal to our primal fears, like Orson Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast, possibly the most influential, through accidental hoax of the last century. Thousands believed that the Martians had landed.

Many hoaxes are just designed for personal advancement – Clifford Irving’s fake biography of Howard Hughes, for example, or Rosie Ruiz’s first place finish in the 1980 Boston Marathon – she actually road the subway to reach the finish line first.

In some cases, however, a hoax has influenced public opinion enough to change the direction of a country. A case in point: The so-called Zinoviev letter, created by British intelligence, that claimed a Soviet revolution was about to take place in England. The scare was effective enough to get Brits to elect a conservative government. The rationale for the War in Iraq may turn out to fall into the same category.

When they’re exposed, hoaxes sometimes help us to understand the world a bit better, or at least make us a little more skeptical when the next scam is tried.

Thus, it’s natural to be a bit suspicious about the current promise of change. At this point the rise of Obama certainly doesn’t qualify as a hoax, but we’re learning fast that, at least to some extent, there has been a bit of hype. Yet there’s still some hope that we haven’t been completely faked out.

In this media-manipulated world, it becomes harder each day to tell reality from fakery. Last year, for example, a reality TV show in the Netherlands, the Great Donor Show, focused on a terminally-ill woman donating a kidney to one of three people who needed a transplant. Turns out it was a stunt.

Still, there’s a chance that the Obama bubble is more than another bait-and-switch operation, a bit of hype mixed with enough reality to keep hope alive. I could be wrong, but just because the current news suggests that there won’t be as much change as promised, that doesn’t mean we’ve been completely punked.

One More Time

Fake McCain Advisor Martin Eisenstadt rants about community organizers:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Maverick News: Mixed Forecasts

This Week: Losing and winning on Gay Marriage, Bush Watch – secret operations and last minute assaults, Barack as Marketer-in-Chief, Cheney’s Midas touch, Forecasting the next crisis, South America just says no (to the drug war). Greg’s Comment: Honeymoon in Limbo. Live Broadcast Friday, November 14, Noon EST, on The Howie Rose Show (WOMM), streamed on The Radiator.

Honeymoon in Limbo

It’s a confusing time. On one hand, the audacity of hope. On the other, war, rumors of war, and a cratering global economy. The end of the most unpopular presidency in a century – maybe ever. But at the same time, clear signs that the next administration will be led largely by retreads from the Clinton years. Change we can believe in? As I said, it is confusing.

Years ago, back in school, I remember being told by a professor that one of the ways to tell whether someone was well-educated is a high tolerance for ambiguity, the ability to deal with less than clear cut situations. To some extent, Bush came to power because a majority of voters liked his black-and-white view of the world, his basic rejection of ambiguity. You were either with him – or with the terrorists. One reason John Kerry lost in 2004, among many, was that his view of the world was too “nuanced.”

But perhaps people have learned a bit in the last eight years. This time, forced to choose between an “all American” war hero offering the same old black-and-white logic, and an exotic challenger with a clear yet nuanced agenda, America – except for a shrinking stronghold of insular simplicity – choose the more complex option.

Maybe the country is growing up. Maybe it’s ready to deal with ambiguity, with problems too complex for simple sound-byte answers. Let’s hope so, since the next months – and probably years – are likely to be even more challenging to many basic assumptions than the Bush era. The world’s only Superpower? Maybe, maybe not. Axis of evil? Too simple to be true or very helpful. The clear line between friends and enemies? It could begin to blur.

As much as we yearn for clear and simple outcomes, and a clear break with the past, we also know that it doesn’t usually work out that way. More likely, the changes ahead will be gradual, subtle, nuanced. You know, something old, something new, some things borrowed, and, for the next four years, basically blue.

I could be wrong, but the future is apt to be a little like a new marriage, the time when you begin to discover the real, complex nature of the person you’ve decided to trust and live with. It’s confusing all right. But if the country has really developed a higher tolerance for ambiguity – an ability to handle uncertainty and adapt, despite all the mixed messages – the honeymoon we’re on could end up being an exciting time of discovery, a chance to create a more perfect, yet continually evolving union.


GAY MARRIAGE: SETBACKS & STRATEGIES. The passage of California's Proposition 8, an amendment to the state Constitution banning gay marriage, may be due largely to $14 million in donations from members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormons. That has set off Irony Alerts across the country, given the Church's onetime support of polygamy. For the record, the Mormons disavowed polygamy in 1890 so that Utah could become a state, but Maverick Mormons continue to practice it.

A day after the vote, the issue returned to the state Supreme Court, since gay and lesbian couples and the city of San Francisco have filed lawsuits seeking to overturn it. Attorney General Jerry Brown says he’ll defend the legality of about 18,000 same-sex marriages conducted in the months leading up to election day. Prop. 8 backers claim the measure was intended to invalidate those marriages. That issue is also expected to end up before California's high court. It could even reach the US Supreme Court.

Backers of Prop. 8 accuse "activist judges" of thwarting the will of voters, who approved a similar measure in 2000. Last May the California High Court ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry under the California Constitution on the grounds of privacy and equal protection.

The new lawsuits seek to overturn Prop. 8 on the basis of state law, but avoid federal constitutional claims. The reason: Gay rights activists are worried that the Supreme Court would reject any right of same-sex marriage under the Constitution.

On the plus side, Connecticut legalized gay marriage this week. A month ago that state’s Supreme Court said that excluding same-sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional. A week ago the court announced that marriages could officially be performed starting on Wednesday. With California out of the picture, Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only states allowing same-sex marriage. New Jersey, Vermont and New Hampshire have civil unions, and California has domestic partnerships.

Vermont could get back into the mix. According to Vermont Freedom to Marry, support for same-sex marriage in the Green Mountains is strong enough that 2009 may be the time to go for it. This November no one running for the Vermont state legislature lost a seat due to the issue. At eight public hearings held by the Vermont Commission of Family Recognition and Protection, support for marriage rights had a 20 to 1 advantage in testimony. The plan is to bring gay marriage to Vermont in the next six months.


PART ONE: WHAT WE DON’T KNOW. Since 2004 the US has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the raids, with Bush’s approval. This gave the military authority to attack al Qaeda anywhere in the world, plus a sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the US. Among other places, commandos have been sent into countries like Pakistan and Somalia. So, don’t think the Bushies have just been sitting around.

PART TWO: EXIT STRATEGY. If you think the Bush administration is basically over, think again. In the next few weeks, Bush is expected to finalize 90 last-minute regulations. This includes relaxing environmental-protection rules on power plants near national parks, uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, and more mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia. The administration wants the rules in place before Thanksgiving.

Why the rush? Because, once a federal regulation has been in effect for 60 days it can’t simply be reversed by presidential action. This means that as of January 20, President Obama would be unable to undo regulations finalized by November 22. Sounds like big trouble.

But the "little-known" Congressional Review Act of 1996 was passed to address just such a situation. It allows Congress to undo these last-minute regulations "with a joint resolution that can’t be filibustered." Obama reportedly has a team of people trying to unravel the complex web of executive orders and regulations. It could end up being handled by one giant Get Rid of Bush Bill.

MARKETER IN CHIEF. Barack Obama actually won two races this year. Not only has he become president, he’s has been named Advertising Age's 2008 Marketer of the Year. Hundreds of marketers, agency heads and marketing-services attending the annual Association of National Advertisers conference voted for Obama's campaign over ad campaigns by major companies like Apple, Zappos, Nike and Coors. AdAge called Obama's win the "biggest day in the history of marketing," saying marketers have a lot to learn from this campaign.

At a time when 70 percent thought the country was headed in the wrong direction, Obama adopted a simple slogan – "Change" – and it never varied. Hillary Clinton tried the slogan "Experience," then shifted to "Countdown to change,” then "Solutions for America." McCain tried on a long list of labels – "Maverick," "Straight Talker," "Conservative" and "Hero." By the time his campaign settled on "Country First," it was too late. The ad experts admire the simplicity, consistency and relevance of Obama’s campaign. He isn’t just leading a movement, he’s a marketing bonanza. Magazines with his and Michelle’s pictures on the cover are flying off the shelves.

So, McCain was right. He’s a celebrity…but you know what ends up happening to them.

NO MORE DICK? Could we have seen the last of Dick Cheney? Perhaps his last act was to put the final nail in John McCain’s coffin – and his own. Here is Cheney, endorsing the Mac in Laramie, Wyoming on November 1, 2008, just three days before the election.

WHAT’S NEXT? In recent weeks we’ve heard a series of dire predictions about what may be facing the world and the next US president in the months ahead. The first discouraging words came in mid-October from Lord West, who advises the UK Prime Minister on security matters. "There is another great plot building up again,” he announced. "We have done all the things that we need to do, but the threat is building.”

Two weeks ago England’s Daily Telegraph reported that security sources believe terrorist activity is nearing "critical." The threat level is at the "severe end of severe," say sources. The level of "ambient activity" among terrorist cells has increased, and they are now operating at full stretch.

On October 20, VP candidate Joe Biden added to the speculation.”We're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy,” he said. “I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate.” On the same day, the newly formed International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament announced that the world is on the brink of an avalanche in the spread of devastating weaponry. There is also top Obama advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who told CNN on November 2 that Barack Obama will be faced with "imminent problems" in foreign policy once he takes office.

The most disturbing prediction comes in a disputed report, supposedly by the Rand Corporation, a leading Pentagon think tank. Rand denies that it issued the report, which recommends that the US can save its economy by starting another war. And who might we be preparing to face -- hot or cold? Most likely, Russia, China, or Iran.

The model is World War II, when weapons production created US jobs. Some argue that the country is still benefiting from that decision. After that war, huge costs were imposed on the losers. After making money by supplying weapons, the US had funds to spare for research and development. The first Iraq War was also profitable, since Saudi Arabia helped cover the costs. And, if a war leads to more access to key resources – oil in Iraq, or oil and gas in Central Asia – that can make it a net gain in the long run.

So, what will Obama do? He’ll face two wars, plus a world financial and economic crisis, and a melting planet. The hope is that he’ll close Guantánamo, begin the withdrawal from Iraq, sign a peace treaty with North Korea, terminate Star Wars, and bring the war on terror to an end. But the signs aren’t that good. Obama calls Afghanistan the “central front” in the “War on Terror” and wants more military action against insurgents allied with the Taliban. Still, he could change his mind, like he did on public financing of his campaign.

SOUTH SAYING NO TO THE DRUG WAR. The latest word from parts of Latin America on the US drug war is pretty blunt: Get out of town. Bolivia has given US Drug Enforcement Administration three months to leave the country. Bolivian President Evo Morales, who rose to power as head of the coca grower's federation, claims that DEA agents have been stoking up divisions in a country already divided over a new Constitution that gives the state control over energy resources.

Ecuadorians have also voted for a new Constitution. This one calls for the closure of one of the most important US operations in its drug war, the Manta airbase. President Rafael Correa calls it a matter of reciprocity. During a visit to Italy last year, he joked that if the US wants its base to remain, it will have to allow an Ecuadorian base in Miami.

In addition, the DEA presence in Venezuela has been dramatically reduced in the past 18 months. State Department officials characterize this as evidence of Venezuela's weak support for international antinarcotics effort. For the fourth year in a row, Venezuela has been singled out by President Bush – as was Bolivia for the first time – for having "failed demonstrably" in antidrug cooperation.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Maverick Podcast: Reality Checks

Deconstructing politics with Greg Guma, FP Cassini, Jim Murphy, and Fred The Hammer. This Edition: Outrageous dialogues and news headlines: Halloween Special. Mexico and the drug war, Obama myths and realities, George Will on Socialism, Loss and the stages of life, Intelligence and the race factor, The hype of hope, and Straight talk from Jim the Skeptic. Plus, Nader, the Greens, and Vermont races. Greg’s Comment: Lowering Our Expectations. Final Moments: Colonel Harcourt on McCain, the Big One, and the Kiss Administration. Music: Long Star Chain.

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. Click to hear this edition of Maverick News @ Noon, originally aired on October 31, 2008, Noon – 1 p.m. Thanks to Big Heavy World and Sonny Fortune.

Check the sidebar for other installments.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Maverick News: Regime Change

This Week: Nader’s Last Stand, Advice from Michael Moore, Remembering Studs Terkel, Marijuana initiatives, and a comment on challenges facing progressives. Live Broadcast Friday, November 7, Noon EST, on The Howie Rose Show (WOMM), streamed on The Radiator.

. What a moment. An African American male has become President of the United States. We’re certainly entering a time of remarkable and somewhat unexpected change. But what kind of change? The signs aren’t that clear. For example, in the closing weeks of the campaign, Barack Obama explicitly referred to the Bill Clinton presidency as a positive model for his administration. Plus, Obama has surrounded himself with members of the political establishment.

Some people, notably fundamentalist Republicans, imagine a socialist future, as if Bernie Sanders is about to become Secretary of the Treasury. No, more likely some Clinton retread. Massive redistribution of wealth? As if. Yet, some of the challenges are similar to those during the Clinton years: a confused, misdirected foreign policy, and the impacts of corporate globalization.

Struggle continues within the Democratic Party. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are basically three groups in the Democratic Congress - progressives who want big changes, Blue Dogs who want deficit reduction, and those who haven't taken a side or want Obama to split the difference and move slowly. That latter group is led by Rahm Emanuel – known as Rahmbo to his friends – the Illinois Democrat and former Clinton aide whom Obama has tapped to be his chief of staff. Former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta is running the transition team. Names in the mix include GOP Maverick’s Chuck Hagel and Colin Powell, Warren Buffett, Tom Daschle (one of Obama’s mentors) and current Defense Secretary Robert Gates. So, will this end up looking like a third Clinton administration, or something different?

Plans are underway to pressure the new boss. The 1Sky campaign is organizing rallies and protests on November 18 across the country, calling on the new regime to move strongly on the climate crisis in the first 100 days. The student climate movement hopes to bring 10,000 or more students to DC at the end of February for a “Power Shift” conference, grassroots lobbying and direct action. United for Peace and Justice is calling for a mobilization in the capitol on March 19, the 6th anniversary of the Iraq war. And community organizers have begun planning for the January 20 inauguration.

What can Progressives do to affect the country’s direction during the next four years? Some say the Left won’t be able to criticize the US as much. There will be a tendency to view this moment is epochal terms, as if past issues, including race, are no longer relevant. Obviously this isn’t true, but people will have to speak up.

Are we “tired” of ideology, as the establishment is suggesting, or just a specific, bankrupt ideology – corporate fundamentalism? Red-baiting didn’t work during the presidential campaign – a major development in itself. But why? Is it because socialism sounds like an archaic label? Or, as some have suggested ironically, did the Republicans inadvertently turn the election into a referendum on socialism – and did socialism win? That remains to be seen.

In either case, progressives need to develop an effective and disciplined multi-issue movement for a new era. The people in charge of the US are about to change, but the issues aren’t. Justice, democracy, equality, and peace – these remain our unmet national goals.

We need a peace and recovery agenda, which will require a new foreign and military policy and a change in economic priorities. As it stands, Obama seems ready to shift military operations from Iraq to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and he hasn’t called off the “war of terror.” Economic recovery and a new US role in the world require a different set of priorities.

Despite the outcome of the election, equality is still under attack. The “spread the wealth” charge during the campaign was basically a rejection of the idea that government should help people, and, to some extent, level the playing field. We need an equality agenda, one that presses for this, along with fairness and opportunity, as American values.

And we need a democracy agenda, including new pressure for alternatives to corporate globalization and re-assertion of basic civil liberties and human rights. This means rolling back things like the Patriot Act, closing Guantanamo, and rescinding the abuses of executive authority instituted during the last eight years. In a way, this is Issue Number One.

And finally, we need a justice agenda with real accountability. As Charlotte Dennett urged during her campaign in Vermont for Attorney General, those who thought they were “above the law” must be brought to justice. In other words, real accountability.

It’s been a remarkable week. Suddenly, it looks possible that the long national nightmare known as the Bush administration is ending and a new, tolerant, multi-cultural era may begin. But nothing is certain, and the nature of this regime change is still largely unknown. Whether progressives will influence its direction depends on the ability to overcome division, to support what is hopeful, and to challenge obsolete thinking.

I could be wrong, but it looks like the election last week is less a victory than an opening, a turning point whose ultimate destination – at least for the moment – is in all our hands.


. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader took another step toward the political wilderness last week, polling only about 1 percent of the vote in his fifth run for president. But the most perplexing aspect of Nader’s campaign turns out to be something he said on Election Day. Speaking to a Fox News affiliate, he became the first public figure to make a racially provocative public remark about the first African-American US president.

Obama will have to choose between being “Uncle Sam for the people of this country, or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations,” Nader announced. Grilled by Shepard Smith on Fox News early Wednesday morning, shortly after the election was decided, Nader declined to back down from the remark. Take a look:

. Filmmaker Michael Moore issued an evaluation of his own. Writing to supporters, he noted, “Never before in our history has an avowed anti-war candidate been elected president during a time of war. I hope President-elect Obama remembers that as he considers expanding the war in Afghanistan. The faith we now have will be lost if he forgets the main issue on which he beat his fellow Dems in the primaries and then a great war hero in the general election: The people of America are tired of war. Sick and tired. And their voice was loud and clear...

Here are a few more excerpts from Moore’s message: “… today we celebrate this triumph of decency over personal attack, of peace over war, of intelligence over a belief that Adam and Eve rode around on dinosaurs just 6,000 years ago. What will it be like to have a smart president? Science, banished for eight years, will return…

“We may, just possibly, also see a time of refreshing openness, enlightenment and creativity….What will it be like to work and create in an environment that nurtures and supports film and the arts, science and invention, and the freedom to be whatever you want to be? Watch a thousand flowers bloom! We've entered a new era, and if I could sum up our collective first thought of this new era, it is this: Anything Is Possible…

“We can wrestle our economy out of the hands of the reckless rich and return it to the people. Anything is possible! Every citizen can be guaranteed health care. Anything is possible! We can stop melting the polar ice caps. Anything is possible! Those who have committed war crimes will be brought to justice. Anything is possible.

“We really don't have much time. There is big work to do. But this is the week for all of us to revel in this great moment. Be humble about it. Do not treat the Republicans in your life the way they have treated you the past eight years. Show them the grace and goodness that Barack Obama exuded throughout the campaign. Though called every name in the book, he refused to lower himself to the gutter and sling the mud back. Can we follow his example? I know, it will be hard.”

. Author, radio host, actor, activist and Chicago symbol Louis "Studs" Terkel died on November 3 at his Chicago home at age 96. A media institution for decades, who wrote his first best-selling book at the age of 55, Terkel was born in New York City on May 16, 1912. "I came up the year the Titanic went down," he would often say.

Terkel worked on radio soap operas, in stage plays, as a sportscaster and a disk jockey. His first radio program was called "The Wax Museum," an eclectic collection of whatever music struck his fancy. When television emerged in the early 1950s, he created and hosted "Studs' Place," a legendary part of the "Chicago school" of television that later produced Dave Garroway and Kukla, Fran and Ollie.

But his TV career didn’t last, mostly due to the commercialization of television. McCarthyism also played a role, since Terkel was politically outspoken. For years he had a hard time finding work, surviving on speaking fees and book reviews. His wife, Ida, made enough to keep the family afloat. Eventually, he found a larger audience when he was hired at a new fine arts station, WFMT, where Terkel began his morning radio show in 1952. In the mid-1960s, when Terkel was in his mid-50s, he started a new career, author of books that chronicled the stories of real people. "I think of myself as an old-time craftsman," Terkel once said.

. Marijuana reform measures passed in Michigan and Massachusetts on Tuesday. In fact, nine out of ten initiatives passed across the country. The only no vote came on a California referendum that would have reduced penalties for possession of a small amount was defeated. Other wins came in Berkeley, various Massachusetts communities, and even Fayetteville, Arkansas.

In Michigan, voters approved a medical marijuana initiative 63 to 37 percent. Seriously ill patients with a physician's recommendation will be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis without arrest. Patients or their caregivers can grow up to 12 plants indoors. This is scheduled to go into effect in early December, making Michigan the 13th state to allow the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Nearly 25 percent of the US population now lives in a state with a medical marijuana law, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Eight of these states passed laws by voter initiative, the remainder went through state legislatures.

Opponents warned that the proposal could result in an explosion of "pot shops," pointing to the proliferation of medical cannabis dispensaries in California before several communities, including San Francisco, took measures to bring them under control.

In Massachusetts, voters statewide overwhelmingly approved a decriminalization initiative that will substitute a civil violation and fine – similar to a traffic ticket – for criminal penalties for possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana.

The only loss came in California, where voters soundly defeated Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, by a margin of 60 to 40 percent. In addition to changing sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenses and expanding treatment and rehabilitation programs, the measure would have reduced penalties for possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rearview: Death Match Drama 2004

As the world watches the main event of Presidential Death Match 2008, don’t forget the last bout, particularly election night and the aftermath of the Bush-Kerry vote.

A Media Drag Race: “We want to be accuracy central,” Dan Rather explained at 1:30 a.m. on November 3, 2004. He was trying to explain why CBS wasn’t ready yet to call Ohio’s 20 electoral votes – and thus the election – for George W. Bush. Full Story.

Post-Election Suspicions: A week after the election, evidence accumulated that vote tallies in some states might have been manipulated. Voting analysis of selected precincts in Florida and Ohio revealed surprisingly high percentages for Bush, and critics were claiming that spoiled ballots and provisional votes, both disproportionately affecting minorities, could have made the difference. Full story.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Maverick Podcast: Desperate Tactics

Deconstructing politics with Greg Guma, FP Casini and Sunny Fortune. This edition: The Real Obama & the Brzezinski connection, campaign red-baiting, imperialism and hierarchies, inaugural music, the Weather Underground, and the Manchurian candidate. Plus, Underreported News: stealing sand, improvements in voting, the electoral map and popular power, Sarah Palin’s SNL appearance (music) – and prospects, the new McCarthyism. Greg’s Comment: Putting Socialism on the Table. Final thoughts: leadership styles and Vermont politics. Bill Maher excerpt: with Bernie Sanders, Martin Short, and Ben Affleck.

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. Click to hear this edition of Maverick News @ Noon, originally aired October 24, 2008, Noon – 1 p.m. Thanks to Big Heavy World.

Check the sidebar for other installments.