Friday, December 17, 2010


This week on Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live at approximately 11:30 a.m. Friday on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington. The Question: Do we prefer the virtual to the real? Looking back at 2010: celebrity misadventures, earthquakes and other disasters, corporate crimes, governing toward gridlock, return of the culture war, media breakthroughs, endangered humanity, and the rumor of the week.
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SEASON OF THE RICH: 2010 in Review

Rednecks out to back a witch
Two parties running in a ditch
Yes, it’s strange very strange
Must be the season of the rich

It was a time of corporate theft, natural disasters, cultural counter-revolution and a general retreat from reality. According to Time, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is the person of the year. Personally, I still can’t decide whether social networking is like the invention of the telephone, just an excuse to gossip, or a way to collect information on people and make it feel like fun. Still, my personal choice for most influential person is Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. And both wunderkinds owe their prominence to the existence of the Internet. So, maybe that was the year’s defining characteristic – the power of cyberspace, eclipsing both inner and outer space. Strange, very strange. And it raises the question: In 2010 has the virtual officially become more compelling than the real?

The year actually started with more traditional media madness and misbehaving celebrities. In January the big talk in TV circles was another late night war. After failing at 10 pm, Jay Leno reclaimed The Tonight Show and Conan O’Brien was bumped from the lineup. Tiger Woods, who was already a major meal for the press cannibals, apologized for his sexual misadventures and decided to take a break from golf. Both he and Conan returned to the spotlight before too long. And, of course, there was the pleasant distraction of the Olympic Games in February. But more shattering events were already erupting.

Here are five of the year’s major story lines – some acknowledged, others under or misreported.


As the argument over climate change continued, deniers got more than their fair share of attention and the planet sent some pointed messages of its own. In January Haiti, which has endured centuries of environmental abuse, was hit with a devastating earthquake. Thousands died and millions continue to suffer. How much can one small country take, especially the poorest in the Western hemisphere? Less than a month later, on February 24, came an 8.8 Earthquake and tsunami in Chile. The body count was much lower, but the quake itself was one of the largest in recorded history.

Less than two months after that, on April 14, ash from an exploding volcano in Iceland disrupted air traffic across Europe. And on October 25, another earthquake created another tsunami, this one off the coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra. Hundreds died. Still, despite such calamities and another year of strange weather, little was done to prepare for more environmental upheavals in the future. Message from the planet ignored.


Not to be outdone by nature, big businesses demonstrated that they’re ready to compete at creating chaos and putting humans at risk. They weren’t creating many jobs, but they certainly produced a few disasters. As Haiti reeled Toyota launched the year’s recall mania. Honda, Ford, even Lexus soon joined the club.

Here’s a partial list of the product recalls from our less-than-safe free market: Tylenol, Rolaids, cheese and eggs, cribs, strollers, car seats and kids medicine, pet food and 27 million pounds of meat and poultry processed for human consumption. Actually, in terms of food recall it may have been the year of egg: half a billion eggs were pulled after 2400 people were hit with salmonella contamination.

Other notable food recalls included lobster, chopped celery from a San Antonio processing plant that was linked to at least four deaths, more than a million pounds of salami and Italian sausage after people in 44 states got sick (the culprit turned out to be black pepper used to coat the meats), lettuce possibly contaminated with e. coli, salmonella and listeria, and lunch meat and frozen vegetables distributed by Walmart. (Some packages of veggies included a special bonus – shards of glass.)

But these mishaps pale when compared to the April 5 mine explosion in West Virginia, the Chilean miners trapped underground from August 4 to October 13, or the big Kahuna – the Gulf oil spill. On April 20, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded. Eleven people working on the rig died right away. We may not ever know the full body count. The spill spread for months, damaging the US coastline, killing wildlife, and briefly prompting doubts about offshore drilling. Heck of a job, BP.


You had to know it would be a rough year when, right out of the box, the Supreme Court announced its Citizens United decision, clearly one the year’s defining moments. Corporate funding of candidate ads couldn’t be limited anymore under the First Amendment. For a century corporate leaders couldn’t spend a company’s general funds in elections. They had to set up separate political action committees. But Citizens United says that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as real people, and restrictions violate those rights. Result: the 2010 elections saw an explosion of corporate money in campaigns, much of it anonymous. Obama went after the Supremes for that decision in his State of the Union, which probably didn’t help. They’re likely to become even more partisan in any future decisions about things like health care reform and gay marriage.

At first it looked like this would be a landmark year for legislation. Health Care Reform – not perfect, but perhaps a step in the right direction – became law on March 23. Four months later, the Democrats muscled through a financial reform bill. Elena Kagan, a pragmatic political player, joined the Supreme Court in the summer. But as the year proceeded it became tougher and tougher to get anything done. By December Republicans were vowing to block everything until the richest two percent get to keep their current tax rate. We had gone from modest reform to hostage taking in less than nine months.


Most pundits saw the May primary victories of Tea Party and Palin-backed candidates as a key sign that some kind of revolution was brewing on the right. But I’d argue that the handwriting was on the wall by February 18. That was the day 53-year-old Joseph Stack, a software engineer, flew a small plan in an IRS building in Austin. Stack died in the crash but left a suicide note that explained his reason: he was upset about the government.

Another early warning was the April 23 signing of Arizona’s harsh "Papers Please" immigration law, which set off a national chain reaction of resurgent xenophobia. A few weeks later Rand Paul beat an establishment Republican candidate in the Kentucky Senate primary. The Tea Party was on the electoral map. Its endorsed candidates also scored upsets in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Nevada, New York, South Carolina and Utah. A strange new and somewhat uncontrollable force was gaining momentum.

By mid-summer we were in a political zombie movie. Anything could spark an attack of the brain-dead. On August 13, they declared a fatwa on what came to be known as the Ground Zero Mosque. Extremists competed for months to see who could be more anti-Muslim. Meanwhile, Glenn Beck transformed himself again – from rodeo clown (it’s just a hobby) to talk show host, and now televangelist and self-appointed savior of the nation. On August 28, he took the show to Washington, attempting to appropriate the civil rights movement by holding a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Angry, middle-aged pudgy white folks were demanding “their” country back. Finally.

If the high water mark came in the spring, the low point was in October, when Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell produced a TV ad to explain that she isn’t a witch. Now, I’ve known some witches, and I have to agree. She’s no witch. She’s something else – a celebrity politician and professional narcissist, the latest media creation. They don’t have to win or do anything to be influential. In fact, the crazier and more irresponsible the better.

The Republicans came out on top on November 2, taking over the US House in the biggest swing in more than half a century. Then, as if it was a sign from above, former big wheel Tom Delay was convicted of crimes he committed while helping to run Congress. For some it was a warning of what lies ahead, for others just more evidence that there’s a vast conspiracy out there, trying to impose justice on a righteous right-wing movement that won’t be restricted by radical, socialist ideas – like fairness, facts and honesty.


As I mentioned at the start, this was a banner year for the Internet. But let’s not forget Rolling Stone, which published a remarkable cover story on June 23. Their feature on General Stanley McChrystal, who was running the war in Afghanistan, was so frank that he was forced to resign. By this time Wikileaks had already released a video that vividly demonstrated the unnecessary brutality that has been a feature of US wars. More leaks were still ahead, building toward a climax in late November. The big document dump, which still continues, exposes all manner of diplomatic hypocrisy and scheming. We’re heard about less than 1 percent of those 250,000 State Department cables.

No wonder there’s so much pressure to prosecute and repress. Too much transparency and we might see right through our overseers. Wouldn’t be prudent, even during a year when right-wingers were so eager to attack the government and talk revolution and freedom. I guess those leaks are just a bit too real.


Obviously, this isn’t the whole story of 2010. But it’s probably fair to say that the year was rife with contradictions – and danger. Class war and cultural reaction, cyberspace power and creeping repression. Where are we heading? Too early to tell. But science did provide one intriguing clue. On December 2, NASA announced the discovery of a new life form, one that thrives on arsenic. Called GFAJ-1, it’s a microbe that apparently substitutes arsenic for phosphate in its DNA. One implication: across the universe, alien creatures could be bubbling up, not limited by our terrestrial chemistry.

On Earth, arsenic is a dangerous poison, enough like phosphorus that the human body will mistakenly take it up and circulate it into cells. Not helpful. For humans it’s a crafty poison. Any organism able to tolerate it in high doses is both fascinating and vaguely threatening.

So, the future holds untold possibilities. But some of them could be deadly for human beings – including the rich. Strange indeed. As George Carlin once said, maybe the Earth backed the development of humans so that we could provide it with plastic. Now that there’s enough, we may no longer be necessary.


If I'm being too negative for the season, how about this – the rumor of the week: They’re working on a sequel to The Blob. In 1958, Steve McQueen figured out that the alien Jello could only be stopped by cold temperature. They froze the sucker and sunk it at the North Pole. As long as the ice remained, we were safe. But the flick did end with a question mark. So, guess what? Climate change. The ice is melting and that deadly blob is on its’ way back.

James Franco is set to play Steve, an angry rebel hacker trying to get enough people to believe that the planet is in trouble. Blobs is set for release next summer, most likely on Independence Day. As mini-blobs spread out across the planet Steve organizes a band of cyber warriors to get the warning out. Will we go viral – or extinct? Eventually a blob is about to engulf the White House. But the rebels’ Wikiblobs Alert is reaching critical mass. And then Interpol breaks in, drops a hood over Steve’s head, and ships him to an undisclosed location. Will humanity survive?

Don’t want to spoil the ending but they say it’ll be in 3D. An Armageddon-load-of-fun for the whole family.

Friday, December 10, 2010


This week on Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live at approximately 11:30 a.m. Fridays on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington. The Question: What’s the ransom for America? The tax deal, Wikileaks and the war on liberty, Julian’s “crime,” the real threats, Ted Turner’s rough talk about procreation, Vermont’s new university for the people, and a person of the year.

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“Welcome to another edition of America Held Hostage. This episode –What Price Congress?” It’s good to know that I’m somewhat on the same page with Paul Krugman about the tax deal being put together this week. The Nobel economics prize winner has called the Republican strategy "tax-cut blackmail." But I’m not so sure Obama should reject it. And not likely he will, even though Krugman and others also claim it will cost the US treasury $4 trillion in revenue over the next decade (assuming the tax breaks are extended indefinitely) and prompt a "major fiscal crisis."

Here’s Krugman in The New York Times: "If Democrats give in to the blackmailers now, they'll just face more demands in the future. As long as Republicans believe that Mr Obama will do anything to avoid short-term pain, they'll have every incentive to keep taking hostages."

Good points. Five major progressive groups­—Move On, Democracy for America, True Majority, Credo Action and the Progressive Campaign Change Committee ­– have urged the Senate not to ratify it.

But others say Obama has little choice but to make a deal. We can quibble about the timing, objecting more loudly, even calling the Republican’s Filibuster bluff. But in the end, the votes aren’t there. So, did Obama have to make this deal? What kind of deal is it actually? And what does it mean for politics going forward?

First, concerning who got what here’s a rundown: The GOP got $75 billion by extending tax cuts for the wealthy for two years, and $43 billion in estate tax changes. That’s a total of $188 billion, the current ransom for holding Congress hostage.

But what’s to be gained in exchange? The big ticket item is a one-year cut in payroll taxes, a $120 billion stimulus that could produce jobs. Next, a 13-month extension in unemployment benefits – pricetag $58 billion and good news for millions of people. Also, $40 billion in tax credits for student and parents with kids, and some business tax breaks. That comes to $206 billion. One way to look at this is a net gain for working people.

Like most things in politics, it’s a trade off. Obama negotiated with political terrorists, and gave the richest another two years of lower taxes. He’s giving in on a principle and allowing the deficit to grow. But in exchange working people get a tax break, students get some tuition help, businesses get some help, and the long-term unemployed get a reprieve. It’s not flashy, but actually not that bad a negotiation when you’re up against terrorist blackmailers who are apparently ready to blow up the economy.

Looking forward, the most dangerous aspect of the deal may be that the changes expire in two years, just in time for the next presidential campaign. Dangerous for whom? Given how this round has gone, it could be trouble for the Left. But it’s also an opportunity – the chance to raise tax breaks for the rich as a presidential campaign issue. If unemployment is still above 8 percent then, public anger and insecurity will be deep and more difficult for the Republicans to control. Where will the Tea Party stand then? Will someone be ready to talk at long last about the class struggle we’re in?

For now, remember $188 billion (based on two years, that’s 9 billion a month, or $300 million a day) – the 2010 price for releasing America from legislative captivity – at least until the next time.


At times like these you hear a lot about getting beyond the two-party monopoly on politics. In Vermont we have Bernie Sanders, who has personally made a break – though he’s increasingly chummy with Democrats, as well as the Progressive Party, the pro-Secession Independence Party, Liberty Union, the Libertarians, and more. But what about the country at large?

One hopeful sign is that there were more third party and independent candidates in 2010 that during any midterm election since 1934. Smart Politics looked more than 17,000 US House contests over the last 80 years. This time there were 443 third party and independent candidates on ballots across the nation, up 42 percent from 2008 and up 57 percent from the last midterm election in 2006. In 1994, 260 independents and third party candidates ran for the US House.

In 2010, the Libertarian Party led the way with 153 candidates across the nation, 35.2 percent of all US House seats – or one candidate for every 2.8 districts. In 2008, Libertarians fielded 125 candidates, meaning an increase of 22.4 percent this year. The Green Party fielded the second most candidates this year with 58, followed by the Constitution Party with 39.

What might opposition parties take on as an issue next time? How about saving civil liberties and the Bill of Rights before their right to dissent is taken away?


The Crackdown Gets Serious

So far the official response to WikiLeaks’ big State Department cable dump, at least from the major political figures, has been to go seriously repressive. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says the world’s whistleblower central has blood on its hands while Missouri Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill questions the patriotism of anyone involved. New York Republican Rep. Peter King wants to designate WikiLeaks a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and in Iowa, another GOP King – Congressman Steve – wants to designate Julian Assange an enemy combatant so he can be prosecuted by a military tribunal. At this writing, Assange is under arrest in England.

If this sounds bad, the prospects for future efforts to expose waste, fraud and abuse look even worse. Whether we like it or not, we’re in a civil liberties fight of immense proportions. We already have…

1. LEGISLATIVE BACKLASH Some in Congress are worried that WikiLeaks may not have broken any laws. Solution? Change the laws to enable prosecution. On December 2, Joe Lieberman and others introduced the SHIELD Act (Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination), which would make it a federal crime to publish the name of an intelligence source or information about human intelligence activity (it’s already a crime to leak the information). Senator Diane Feinstein has meanwhile announced her support for re-writing the 1917 Espionage Act to make it easier to prosecute Assange.

2. SELECTIVE PROSECUTION Attorney General Eric Holder has announced an “ongoing” investigation into WikiLeaks and Assange. The Justice Department may seek indictments under the Espionage Act. A side effect of such a prosecution is that, at some point, it will likely be applied to other publishers of controversial information.

Bradley Manning, the 22 year-old Army analyst suspected of leaking the cable (plus video of a US helicopter attack that killed at least 11 Iraqi civilians, and documents relating to the war in Afghanistan) is currently under arrest for leaking classified information. Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has called for Manning's execution.

Keep in mind that WikiLeaks has only posted cables already published on the websites of the New York Times and other papers.

3. INTERNET CENSORSHIP Senator Lieberman’s staff has pressured to kick WikiLeaks off its server and publicly called on all US companies to shun it. PayPal has cut off the site’s primary funding source by freezing its account. went dark when its domain host pulled the plug. You can now find it at This isn't the first time Lieberman, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has tried to censor the internet. In 2008 he tried to get YouTube to take videos off its website. He apparently has an unquenchable desire to shut down websites he doesn't like.

4. SEARCHES AND SEIZURES On November 3, David House, a researcher at MIT and activist with the Bradley Manning Support Network, was stopped at O’Hare Airport on his way home from a Mexico vacation. He was questioned for an hour and a half about his work and why he visited Manning in prison. His laptop, cell phone, camera and USB drive are in FBI custody. The government has virtually unrestricted powers to search and question people at borders without any stated suspicion. Sometimes these stops are designed to intimidate people or gather information about free speech activity. Bon Voyage.
The campaign against WikiLeaks has many facets and also offers many opportunities for response. Here are two: Tell Lieberman and others in Congress what you think about any effort to censor the Internet. Or sign a statement of support for Bradley Manning.

The Set Up

The main charge behind the arrest of Assange is sexual assault. But one of the women accusing him appears to have worked with a group connected to the CIA. This just gets more convoluted by the day.

The charge itself has been misreported. James D. Catlin, a lawyer who represented Assange, says the sex assault investigation is based on a condom malfunction during sex with two Swedish women. Swedish prosecutors have told AOL News
that Assange was not wanted for rape, but for something called "sex by surprise" or "unexpected sex."

Another complication is that at least one of his accusers, Anna Ardin, may have "ties to the US-financed anti-Castro and anti-communist groups," according to
Israel Shamir and Paul Bennett, writing for CounterPunch. While in Cuba, Ardin worked with the Las damas de blanco (the Ladies in White), a feminist anti-Castro group. Professor Michael Seltzer points out that the group is led by Carlos Alberto Montaner, who is reportedly connected to the CIA.

So, the charge – sex by surprise – may well be a set up, making this clever cyber warrior possibly a bit less brilliant than he appears, but also less likely the sexual predator the media is helping to manufacture. As Saturday Night Live put it last week, however he ends up dying, it will be murder.

The Real Threats

The basic argument for sacrificing civil liberties – allowing ourselves to be spied on, searched, questioned, harassed – is the risk of some future terrorist attack. But let’s be brutally honest: just how likely is it? One answer comes to us courtesy of Evan DeFilippis, writing in the Oklahoma Daily:

The odds of dying on an airplane as a result of a terrorist hijacking are less than 1 in 25 million. For all intents and purposes, that’s effectively zero chance. Compared to what, you may ask. By comparison, the odds of dying in a normal airplane crash, according to the OAG Aviation Database, are 1 in 9.2 million. So, chances of biting it in a hijacked airplane 1 in 25 million. Chances on your average commercial flight 1 in 9 million.

Do the math. Pilots are responsible for more deaths than terrorists.

But let’s not stop there. Consider a few stats from the National Safety Council. The average American is 87 times more likely to drown than die in a terrorist attack. Fifty times more likely to die by lightening, and 8 times more likely to die at the hand of a police officer.

Evan DeFilippis sums it up. “The point is this: the risk of a terrorist attack is so infinitesimal and its impact so relatively insignificant that it doesn’t make rational sense to accept the suspension of liberty for the sake of avoiding a statistical anomaly.” Harsh but true.


Maybe it takes someone with unlimited wealth to say the unthinkable. For instance, announcing publicly that to save the planet will require some kind of population control. That’s what Ted Turner told people gathered at the Cancun Climate Summit last week.

The first reaction, in some quarters, was to cry hypocrisy. After all, Turner has five kids, a little late to start preaching. But let’s get beyond that. The context was a luncheon at which Brian O’Neil, an economist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, unveiled his study on the impact of demographics on future greenhouse gas emission. A rapidly rising global population is accelerating emission growth, and widespread availability of family planning could reduce the amount of emissions reductions required in 2050 by as much as 30 per cent.

It sounds dry but this is potential political dynamite, which may be why it is so little-discussed. The Roman Catholic Church has condemned any such connection, while developing countries resist prescriptions from the rich that they should limit their populations. Global population, now close to seven billion people, is expected to rise to 10 billion by 2050. Eighty percent of the growth will come in developing countries.

In this context, Turner said that environmental stress requires radical solutions, and suggested following China’s lead in instituting a one-child policy to reduce global population over time. He’s long been an advocate of population control. At Cancun he added, however, that fertility rights could be sold so that poor people could profit from their decision not to reproduce. What to call it, cap and what… Mainstream leaders are worried that such “radical prescriptions” could backfire. Handling population issues the wrong way could divide the world even more deeply. I think I saw this movie, a scifi action flick called Fortress, in which a couple who get illegally pregnant are sent to a corporate-run prison in outer space. Violent hijinks ensue.

China’s leaders claim that the one-child policy has helped limit emissions growth in that rapidly industrializing country. At the Copenhagen climate summit last year, their national planning flak said the policy has resulted in 400 million fewer births since 1979 (population stands at 1.3 billion). The lower birth rate supposedly converts to a reduction of 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. However, critics contend it has not only interfered with reproductive choice, but contributed to high levels of female infanticide and abortions.

O’Neill, the expert whose paper set Turner off, didn’t advocate a particular policy. Either am I. But he does note that global surveys reveal a vast, unmet demand for family planning. Just making contraception universally available on a voluntary basis would drive down the birth rate. A lot to ask? Talk to the Pope.


University for the People

The Vermont Workers Center is launching a school, the People’s University for Learning and Liberation, or PULL. The idea is to pull together all the education work of the Center -- workshops, educational gatherings – VWC calls them “PULL-togethers,” train-the-trainers sessions, and an annual Solidarity School for organizers.

A PULL-Together will be held at various locations in January 2011. The topic is Climate Justice. Organizing committees around the state are working on the links between the global economic crisis and the global environmental crisis. The Center says governments increasingly protect the interest of corporations over the rights of people and the environment. A conversation about this is long overdue.

Two local events are coming up. On January 9th, an Introduction to Social Justice & Organizing at the Vermont Workers’ Center in Burlington, and January 20th the Climate Justice PULL-Together at the same place.


Who will the mainstream pick? Who cares? For me the person of the year – if there is such a thing – is pretty obvious. Who has had the biggest impact, for good or ill? I’ll close with this excerpt from an article by my candidate, Julian Assange, published December 7, 2010 in The Australian:

WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?

Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.

People have said I am anti-war: for the record, I am not. Sometimes nations need to go to war, and there are just wars. But there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars, then asking these same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies. If a war is justified, then tell the truth and the people will decide whether to support it.

If you have read any of the Afghan or Iraq war logs, any of the US embassy cables or any of the stories about the things WikiLeaks has reported, consider how important it is for all media to be able to report these things freely.

WikiLeaks is not the only publisher of the US embassy cables. Other media outlets, including Britain ‘s The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany have published the same redacted cables.

Yet it is WikiLeaks, as the co-ordinator of these other groups, that has copped the most vicious attacks and accusations from the US government and its acolytes. I have been accused of treason, even though I am an Australian, not a US, citizen. There have been dozens of serious calls in the US for me to be "taken out" by US special forces. Sarah Palin says I should be "hunted down like Osama bin Laden," a Republican bill sits before the US Senate seeking to have me declared a "transnational threat" and disposed of accordingly. An adviser to the Canadian Prime Minister's office has called on national television for me to be assassinated. An American blogger has called for my 20-year-old son, here in Australia, to be kidnapped and harmed for no other reason than to get at me.

And Australians should observe with no pride the disgraceful pandering to these sentiments by Prime Minister Gillard and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have not had a word of criticism for the other media organizations. That is because The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel are old and large, while WikiLeaks is as yet young and small.

RUMOR OF THE WEEK will return. Meanwhile, it’s week 520, 3640 days since the country was taken hostage by un-American terrorists, wealthy corporate pirates and their political stooges in the 2000 election. We’ll be with you until all the hostages are released.

Friday, December 3, 2010


This week on Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live at approximately 11:30 a.m. Fridays on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington. The Question: Has the big dump revealed anything new? The Wikileaks revelations, a less religious America, Willy Nelson’s latest bust, Kentucky’s Pot King, scanning hypocrisy, an instant runoff progress report (plus why Burlington dropped it), and the rumor of the week.

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It’s hard to discuss what’s been going on in the US this week without using analogies to bodily functions -- actually one in particular. From congressional constipation to the largest document dump in history, it’s been a post-Thanksgiving rectal crisis of epic proportions.

First congress, in which Republicans pledge to let nothing pass until those who don’t need the money get an extension of their decade-long tax break. The military has made it plain that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should go, and millions are losing unemployment benefits, but the GOP – which should now stand for Greedy Old Punks – won’t let anything out – not the START arms treaty, not even benefits for 9/11 responders – until the wealthiest 2 percent get a bit more spending money. That’s legislative constipation at its most worst, a brutal form of blackmail.

At the same time the country and the world have been virtually flooded with documents that expose the dirty secrets of US foreign policy. There’s a saying that sunlight is the best disinfectant. But the Wikileaks dump of State Department documents is more like a powerful laxative that has right-wingers howling for the head of mastermind Julian Assange.

Much of the media blah-blah has centered on whether Assange should be hunted down, jailed, or even executed. Much less has been shared about the actual contents of the big dump. So, what do the 250,000 cables show? So far we’ve learned about…

* Use of US embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats gathering not only information from people they meet, but personal details like frequent flyer numbers, credit card details, even DNA.

* Spying on the leadership of the UN and their staffs, including private VIP networks used for official communication, passwords, and personal encryption keys.

* Arab regimes urging the US to bomb Iran and destroy its nuclear program, and the strong possibility of an Israeli attack within the next year.

* Attempts by the US to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor. Pakistan’s regime fears that if the media learned about it, they would portray it as the US grabbing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Actually, that’s already a widespread rumor.

* A diplomatic version of “Let’s Make a Deal” in which various countries are promised aid and access to President Obama in exchange for accepting detainees. The contestants include Slovenia, the island nation of Kiribati and Belgium.

* US support for the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey, an organization that both the US and Turkey classify as a “terrorist” group.

* Collection of biometric data on Paraguayan presidential candidates, covert orchestration of an anti-Chavez propaganda campaign in Venezuela, work with Brazilian authorities to illegally monitor citizens of Arab descent and jail suspects on trumped-up drug charges, and support for a Honduran coup government that the State Department knew to be illegal.

* An alliance between the US Military Southern Command and Florida International University to create so-called “strategic culture” reports on Latin American and Caribbean countries, apparently to be used in planning US military operations.

* Pressure on Germany not to prosecute CIA officers responsible for the kidnapping, rendition and torture of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, taken to a secret CIA-run prison in Afghanistan, tortured, and held for months before being released on a hillside in Albania. One cable describes a US official’s efforts to prevent accountability, pressuring the Germans to weigh “the implications for relations with the US” of issuing international arrest warrants.

And much more yet to come. But the biggest revelation may be that a small organization, with the help of some mainstream media accomplices, can spark such hysteria. It’s a reminder – though officials are quick to issue denials – that US foreign policy is becoming more and more chaotic, lunging from one half-baked plan to the next, angry and hostile to both “friends” and foes.

In the past, without whistleblowers we wouldn’t have found out about the CIA’s secret prisons or the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping. Without leaks we wouldn’t know that civilian casualties from the war in Iraq are much higher than advertised, or that US troops initially went into battle without decent body armor. Sure, some things need to be kept secret. But much more information is classified than necessary, some of it for purely political reasons -- to protect the government from embarrassment, to manipulate public opinion, or to conceal evidence of crimes. When there are too many secrets, it’s hard to distinguish what should be public from what’s legitimately classified.

Nevertheless, one official question of the moment is whether Wikileaks has the right to release classified documents that show the US officials violating laws. Another is whether Assange is some kind of cyber-anarchist or terrorist rather than a champion of transparency. But the real question of the week is: Does the big dump actually shed new light on American intrigue and conspiracies, or just confirm what we’ve long suspected?


Losing Our Religion

It’s conventional wisdom that the US is a religious country. Politicians love to wrap themselves in piety as much as a flag. God and country, right? And yet 80 percent of the young people raised in a church will disengage before they’re 30. That’s the word from the Barna Group, a research organization that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture. Their research concludes that the dropout rate from Christian churches has skyrocketed. In the past 20 years, the number of Americans who say they have no religion has doubled, reaching 15 percent. And most of those who say so are under-30. The polling data basically shows a dramatic exit from Christian churches, combined with a rising generation gap.

Willy Nelson’s Bus Bust

On November 27, the day after Thanksgiving, Country singer Willie Nelson was charged with marijuana possession – again. Six ounces was found on his tour bus in Texas, according to the US Border Patrol. Which raises the question: What did Willy’s entourage think would happen when the bus pulled into a checkpoint? The door opened and an officer immediately smelled pot. This triggered a search and then the arrest of Nelson and two other people by the local sheriff.

Willie was held briefly until a $2,500 bond was paid. It isn’t his first bust, obviously. In 2006, he was charged with a misdemeanor after being caught with grass and mushrooms. He paid a fine, was put on probation, and proceeded to pose for High Times magazine. He’s also on the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Run, Johnny, Run

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s “King of Pot” is on the run, but it’s not likely that he’ll be caught anytime soon. The king is a 67-year-old outlaw named John Robert Boone, who has been hiding out for two years, ever since the authorities seized 2,400 marijuana plants on his farm. Since then he’s become a folk-hero with a Facebook fanpage and a T-shirt that says "Run, Johnny, Run.”

People in the rural area southeast of Louisville aren’t saying anything, especially since quite a few hard luck farmers there have plants of their own. In the old days the area was a center for moonshine runners. In the early 1980s, when the economy soured and prices for tobacco and farm products dropped, parts of central Kentucky had unemployment rates nearing 14 percent. No wonder grass became a crop.

Boone spent more than a decade in federal prison after taking part in what prosecutors called the "largest domestic marijuana syndicate in American history." He was the key figure in a string of 29 farms in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Wisconsin. The group he led was known as the Cornbread Mafia, and reportedly grew 182 tons of grass.

Both Boone’s friends and pursuers consider him an innovator. The innovation was to separate male from female plants on a large scale to increase potency and experiment with seeds from around the world in different climates. He still has friends in the area. One resident who spent time with him in prison, 64-year-old “Jim Bean” Cecil, says, "Even if I knew where he was, I wouldn't tell you."

Others describe him as a friendly guy who was quick to open his wallet when neighbors were had trouble, and a heck of a farmer who just happened to grow marijuana. His Facebook page has 1,600 fans. If he’s caught he’ll face a life sentence under the federal three-strike rule. But he could be anywhere, even not that far from his old farm. The feds say it’s like trying to catch a ghost. A friendly ghost with deep roots.

Scanning Hypocrisy

We’re hearing a lot of concern from Republicans about the TSA’s decision to have a small number of randomly-selected people choose between being scanned or frisked before boarding airplanes. For some reason they’ve suddenly become ardent civil libertarians. But consider this: If George W. Bush was president and presided over the same policy, who would be screaming and who would be defending the policy?

It’s not hard to figure out. Democrats would be outraged at an assault on civil liberties, liberal pundits would be talking about police state tactics, and Republicans would leap to the administration’s defense, charging that liberals were soft on terrorism. But with Obama in the White House, the script has been flipped. The Right and Republicans rage against body scans, Democrats try to justify the procedure, and liberal pundits leap to their defense.

What the dust up shows is that most people mired in politics ¬are partisans first and ideologues second. Thus, arguments are reverse-engineered to justify whatever their side is doing. Forget ideology. The bottom line is usually that the other guys can’t be trusted.

At the moment, this means many liberals can live with intimate body scans so long as a Democrat is overseeing them. And conservatives? They find the new security measures much more frightening with “Big Sister” – that’s Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano – in charge.

Runoff Rundown

Instant runoff voting played a major role in several 2010 elections. In Oakland, for example, it was a big factor in the victory of Jean Quan, the first Asian American woman to be elected mayor of a major American city. Heavily outspent, she trailed by 9 percent in first choices, but took the lead in the ranked tally. Instant runoff also affected outcomes in nearby San Leandro and San Francisco, and avoided a runoff in Berkeley.

Maine's largest city, Portland, has adopted instant runoff for its mayoral elections beginning next year. After the winner of Maine’s governor’s race received less than 50 percent for the sixth time in the last seven elections, The Portland Press Herald suggested that instant runoff could be the key to a new politics. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune says the same thing, reacting to the victory of statewide candidates by less than 50 percent.

Meanwhile, more than 1.9 million voters in North Carolina cast instant runoff ballots in the country’s first statewide general election. Nevertheless, Burlington – which used instant runoff in its last two mayoral races – abandoned it last year.


IRV and the Mayor’s Race

Why did Burlington turn against instant runoff voting? To understand, you have to look at the 2006 and 2009 elections in the Queen City. In 2006, almost 10,000 people voted and Progressive Bob Kiss received 3809 in the first round, 700 votes more than Democrat Hinda Miller. After a second round in that five-way race, Kiss pulled even further ahead, winning with 4761 votes – just short of 50 percent.

Three years later, a thousand less people voted – 8980 to be exact – and in the first round Republican Kurt Wright got 2951, beating Kiss by almost 400 votes. In the second round, when the votes of independent Dan Smith and James Simpson were redistributed to the remaining three candidates, Wright was still ahead with 3294 votes to 2981 for Kiss.

But when Democrat Andy Montroll’s votes were redistributed for a third round Kiss finally pulled ahead with 4313, beating Wright’s 4061. It’s easy to see why the Republicans were unhappy. As a result Wright’s supporters mounted a campaign to repeal instant runoff, winning by 52 to 48 percent.

In 2012, the mayor’s race will be decided the old way: The first place candidate wins – as long as he or she gets at least 40 percent. At this point it looks like Wright may have about 32 percent of likely local voters with him. The fewer candidates the more likely that he can reach the legal threshold, unless the Progressives stand aside and Wright faces only a Democrat. Assuming the turnout is less than 10,000, he’ll need about 1000 votes more than he initially received the last time around.

What’s unclear at this point is whether Kiss will run again, and if he doesn’t whether local Progressives will choose someone to replace him. One name being discussed is Senator Tim Ashe, a former member of the City Council who would start with high name recognition and a record of vote getting. But it’s not clear yet that he’s ready to run.


B of A is Wikileaks’ next target

This one comes from the world’s most famous fugitive, Julian Assange. The Bank of America says that it has "no evidence” Wikileaks has possession of one of its executives' hard drives. But interviews with Assange suggest otherwise, which has sent the bank's stock shares plummeting.

In a Forbes magazine interview, Assange claims there will be a "megaleak" about a major U.S. bank in early 2011. Tens of thousands of documents will reveal unethical behavior, he says. He didn’t tell Forbes the name of the bank, but in October 2009 he told Computerworld that Wikileaks was "sitting on" five gigabytes of information from a Bank of America executive's hard drive.

B of A has issued a non-denial. Said spokesman Scott Silvestri, "More than a year ago WikiLeaks claimed to have the computer hard drive of a Bank of America executive, Aside from the claims themselves we have no evidence that supports this assertion. We are unaware of any new claims by WikiLeaks that pertain specifically to Bank of America."

So, stay tuned for that mega-leak. It sounds like a dump so painful that some big bank may need a proctologist. Poor baby.