Friday, June 24, 2011


Excerpts from Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live on The Howie Rose Show at 11 a.m. Fridays on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington. This week: Exclusive interview with Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen*, patriotism and the first lady’s visit, Bernie Sanders v. the world – Koch Brothers Edition, Greece on the verge, the Afghan transition, and the rumor of the week. Plus, Can a Mormon be President?

Tune in weekly to The Radiator (WOMM-FM/LP)   Follow updates from Greg Guma on Twitter

The Howie Rose Show will be on break next week. We return July 8.

Sanders on the Koch Brothers Echo Chamber

There’s a new video out from Brave New Films, narrated by Bernie Sanders. After last week’s takedown of the NRC, are we seeing Bernie v. the World: And what would that graphic novel look like anyway?

Greece on the Verge of Collapse. Could Europe Follow? Are we all being structurally adjusted?

The Afghanistan Two-Step: Winding down or just transitioning? Obama announced 33,000 troop drawdown. But 100,000 will remain and a long-term presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq is projected.

Question of the Week: Can a Mormon be President?

Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman aren’t the first Mormons to seek the presidency. That honor goes to founder Joseph Smith, a Vermonter by birth who struck out for the west in revival days. Check out the story of Smith’s fateful 1844 run, and some thoughts about how things have changed.

Image Trouble: Complete Essay       Mormons and Vermont History

Rumor of the Week

If true, this one could be heavy. The rumor, being pushed hard by radio/conspiracy mogul Alex Jones, is that Rick Perry, the secession-spouting governor of Texas, is really the Bilderberg group’s pick for president. Jones claims that Perry’s candidacy is more proof that the shady, secretive, undemocratic global elite has plans to hold onto power while Americans are distracted by the delusion that they have a genuine choice.

The evidence? Well, Perry is a protégé of Karl Rove. He acts like a down-home populist, but that’s all it is. He is really George W. Bush 2.0. While mouthing Tea Party rhetoric about secession, shooting coyotes and courting Christian evangelicals, behind closed doors he has been quietly selling out Texas to globalist interests, auctioning off highways to foreign companies to turn them into profit-driven toll roads. The speculation that Perry is the Bilderberg group’s ace in the hole is based largely on the charge that he is a longtime, unwavering supporter of the NAFTA Superhighway and related New World Order infrastructure projects.

So, will it be the Mormons, the Tea Party and the Bilderberg's, all vying for the withering soul of the GOP as we catapult toward judgement day? Is this another new graphic novel, The Chosen Ones, or just one way of seeing the race. Can it happen here? .... Anyway, until next time


*Howie Rose Show Interview video is being developed

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Image Trouble: Can a Mormon Be President?

Of the major religions – other than Muslim – people in the US are least comfortable with the prospect of a Mormon president, says a new Pew Research study. Even evangelical Christians, a core constituency for many a Republican hopeful, tend to see the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) as a secretive, possibly heretical cult. Thus, if Mitt Romney does become the GOP’s nominee in 2012, this could be a tougher obstacle than his association with health care reform or his oft-discussed absence of authenticity.

There are a number of Mormon political heavy-weights, notably US Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Jon Huntsman – as of this week officially another rival for the nomination, and five other senators, including both from Utah, Michael S. Lee and Orrin Hatch, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Tom Udall of New Mexico, and Dean Heller, who replaced John Ensign to join Reid in representing Nevada. Ronald Reagan may be the Church’s leading admirer among the presidents, and his administration reportedly contained more Mormons than any other.

According to Stephen M. Studdert, a Mormon who was Special Assistant to Reagan, he and two other church members were on Reagan’s personal staff and another was his chief strategist. The list also includes Secretary of Education Ted Bell, US Treasurer Angela Buchanan, Solicitor General Rex Lee, Brent Scowcroft, and many more. Several Mormons also served as ambassadors. “LDS senators and representatives were held in special regard, and the Tabernacle Choir was his special inaugural guest," Studdert recalls fondly. Sounds almost like a Golden Age.

Still, no LDS member has risen higher in government so far than Reid, who joined while attending Utah State in 1960. He later converted his Jewish wife. Since the rise of Las Vegas as a gambling Mecca, prominent Mormons have also worked as top executives for legalized gaming and other conglomerates. Former Utah Senator Bob Bennett, for example, was a once the top corporate PR man for Howard Hughes.

Romney’s ties to the Church are among the deepest. A fifth-generation Mormon whose ancestors were involved from the mid-1850s, he is a former lay bishop of Massachusetts' temple. But he isn’t the first Mormon to seek the presidency. That honor goes to founder Joseph Smith, a Vermonter by birth who struck out for the west in revival days.

Part of an evangelical surge known as the Second Great Awakening, many revivals of the early 19th century centered on Christian predictions of impending doom. The prophecies faded but the righteous attitude and enthusiasm gave energy to diverse movements, from abolition to temperance and opposition to the influence of Masons. The basic revival message was the promise of salvation from social and personal dilemmas. Revivals offered a way to stay focused in confusing times, as well as a group of like-minded converts, simple answers to problems, and a sense of purpose in line with a communal form of liberty.

Smith was born in a small Vermont town near the Connecticut River on December 23, 1805 but moved to upstate New York before founding the Church in 1831. He began by announcing that an angel had given him a book of golden plates inscribed with a religious history of ancient peoples. Once “translated” by Smith their contents became The Book of Mormon.

Believers flocked to the new religion, but hostile neighbors forced Smith and his followers to keep moving, first to Ohio and then Missouri and Illinois. In Missouri the tensions broke into outright war. Hostile Missourians thought the Mormons were planning an insurrection and the governor said they should be "exterminated” or driven out.

Smith next led his followers to Illinois, where they built a town on some Mississippi River swampland. There Smith became the mayor of a town he named Nauvoo and commanded an impressive militia.

He announced for President as candidate of the National Reform Party in early 1844. It was a long shot, since former President Andrew Jackson was engineering the nomination of Tennessee farmer, lawyer and political “dark horse” James Polk. The Whigs were backing Henry Clay, and the big issue was expansion – specifically the takeover of Texas and Oregon.

Smith’s Party had emerged from the National Reform Association, a coalition of unionists, locofocos (a radical Democratic faction combining unionists and libertarians) and the Workingman’s Party, united in their concern about depression and “social degradation of the laborer.” What especially attracted Smith, however, was the Party’s policy focus – homesteading rights. National Reformers wanted legislation allowing workers and others to acquire public lands free of charge, state laws exempting farm land from seizure to collect debts, and restrictions on ownership of large swathes by the wealthy. Their slogan was “Vote the Land Free.”

Unfortunately, like many candidates before and since, Smith had some personal baggage. In his case it came in the form of romantic overtures he had made to the wife of a convert, William Law, a Canadian who quit the Church and publicly attacked the Mormon practice of polygamy in a newsletter. “We are earnestly seeking to explode the vicious principles of Joseph Smith, and those who practice the same abominations and whoredoms,” wrote Law. Accompanied by the Nauvoo city marshal, Smith responded by destroying his accuser’s printing press. The Illinois governor charged him with inciting a riot and had him jailed.

On June 27, 1844, while Smith was drinking wine with his brother and some friends in a spacious cell in Carthage, a mob surrounded the building. The prophet had a gun, a six shot “pepper-box” pistol, but a gang with blackened faces charged into his cell and opened fire, immediately killing his brother and the others. Smith almost escaped out the window. With shots coming at him from behind and below he plummeted two stories to the ground and then died.

Five men were tried for his murder. All were acquitted. But the church soon recovered when a new prophet emerged – a 43-year-old former housepainter and carpenter from Vermont named Brigham Young.

Thirty-seven years after Smith’s fateful race Chester Arthur succeeded where he had fallen short, becoming the first president from Vermont upon the assassination of President James Garfield. But Arthur was the Episcopalian son of a Baptist minister, and public attitudes had turned less tolerant in the intervening years. In his first Annual Message to Congress on December 6, 1881, Arthur called Mormon polygamy an “odious crime” and a “barbarous system,” urging legislation to stop its spread. By then Mormons were well established in Utah, Idaho, Arizona and other Western Territories. Still, attacks on polygamy peppered Arthur’s speeches throughout his presidency.

More than a century later, the LDS church has 14 million members and identifies itself with patriotism, monogamy and conservative values. Yet the Pew Research Center has concluded that 25 percent of American would be less likely to vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. The responses from white evangelicals are even less encouraging. More than a third react negatively to the idea of a Mormon in the White House. Among those, 63 percent said there is no way they will go for Romney. A new Gallup Poll says 22 percent of all voters won’t vote for a Mormon. University of Akron political scientist John Green claims that distrust among Christian evangelicals contributed to Romney’s 2008 loss in the Iowa caucuses. Could it be enough to prevent any Mormon from winning the nomination?

Mormon associations with secrecy, polygamy and religiously “subversive” beliefs persist, frequently reinforced by popular media portrayals. In the HBO series Big Love, a modern-day polygamist struggles with the LDS hierarchy, religious fanatics, and federal investigations. Although elected to the Utah legislature, his tenure is cut short by scandal and, in the final episode, he is murdered by a disillusioned neighbor. At the other end of the theatrical spectrum is the irreverent musical satire of The Book of Mormon, an award-winning Broadway hit by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Even straight historical dramas tend to focus on the extremism of early Church leaders. And let’s not linger on the Order, the notorious Utah crime family and polygamist Mormon cult, profiled this week in Rolling Stone and reportedly worth at least $300 million.

During Romney’s 2008 presidential run he tried to defuse the issue and dispel doubts with a speech, a strategy used with success by John F. Kennedy when he spoke publicly about Catholicism and politics during his presidential run. But Romney's "Faith in America" talk in Texas mentioned the name of his faith just once, raising questions about whether he was as comfortable with the issue as he suggested. For some it’s politically the M-word.

This time, Romney moved to preempt attacks by announcing on CNN that he is “not a spokesman” for the Church. It came off as defensive, and ultimately beside the point. "We go to different churches or maybe don't go to church so much," he has said, apparently in the hope of associating himself with tolerance rather than polygamy. Whether this will work remains to be seen. But considering how things went for Smith the Romney and Huntsman campaigns are positively mainstreaming.

So, can a Mormon be president? It does remain exotic or threatening for some. But after the first Black president, and especially what’s been said about him, a Mormon commander-in-chief is getting easier to imagine. We may soon find out whether it can happen here.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Excerpts from Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live on The Howie Rose Show at 11 a.m. Fridays on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington. This week: Getting ready for the First Lady, Massachusetts v. Entergy, National Syrup Security, Obama and secrecy, the Libyan Blame Game, and a cyber attack at the IMF. Plus, this week’s rant: Are drugs and cyberspace messing with our minds? Tune in The Radiator (WOMM-FM/LP).   Follow updates from Greg Guma on Twitter

National Syrup Security

Burlington legislator Kesha Ram is in Washington, DC today (6/17/11), one in a select group of young elected officials -- YEOs, as they're known -- invited to a policy briefing with senior administration officials. There will also be a reception with President Obama. On her Facebook page, Kesha writes, “Words cannot express how honored and excited I am!”

But there is a security issue. Evidently, some family friends gave her a gift for the President. Here’s how she handled it: “Thank you for confirmation of my invitation to the YEO briefing and reception on Friday. I have a question about policies regarding gift giving to the President. A Vermont family gave me a small jug of maple syrup handmade on their farm for President Obama, and I would really love to give it to whomever can verify that it is not hazardous or harmful to the President who can then give it to him. Is that possible?”

Diplomatic. The thing is, Vermont maple syrup has been linked to outbreaks of uncontrolled enjoyment and potentially seditious speech.

Waiting for Michelle

Vermonters don’t often get a glimpse of presidents, candidates or their wives. In 2008 neither John McCain nor Barack Obama visited the state. It’s pretty small and, after all, there was little doubt about which way most state voters would go in the election.

But Michelle Obama did visit, and will return in less than two weeks to raising money for her husband and meet with Vermont soldiers. Senator Pat Leahy says he and his wife suggested the visit a few months ago after Vermont troops returned from an overseas deployment.

The First Lady will also be the featured guest at a South Burlington fundraiser for her husband's re-election. That event is slated for June 30 at the Sheraton Hotel in South Burlington. Doors open at 3:30 pm, the festivities begin at 4:15. Tickets are $100 and up. According to reporter Shay Totten, however, that’s not the only event being planned. A $5,000 per person shindig at ECHO on the waterfront  may also be in the works.

Questions: Is anyone planning to greet her outside the Sheraton or on the waterfront? What does she need to know? What messages or questions would you like to share? Let us know.

Mass vs. Entergy: The Plot Thickens

Vermont has a new ally in its struggle to close the Vermont Yankee Nuke next March. When Yankee owner Entergy's request for a preliminary injunction against the state is heard in federal court this month, the state will be joined by Massachusetts, which is backing Vermont's position in the case.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has filed a friend-of-the-court brief. The state’s New England neighbor has a special interest in the case, she says, namely its own state laws regulating power facilities within its borders, including the nuclear kind. The goal is to preserve “its ability to enact, implement and enforce its own laws, to address the numerous concerns inherent in construction and operation of nuclear power plants within its border, now or in the future. The preemption questions presented in this proceeding, while specifically focused on Vermont laws, implicate the same type of constitutional analysis to a preemption challenge." The case could have a big impact on how the Commonwealth deals with its nuclear power plant, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, in Plymouth.

In April, Entergy filed a lawsuit against Vermont claiming its attempt to end operation of the plant by March 21, 2012, infringes on the federal jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The company’s problem: Entergy signed a memo of understanding with Vermont when it bought the plant back in 2002. Now it claims that two of the conditions – that the state Public Service Board has jurisdiction over the plant's continued operation and that Entergy waived any claim it might have to federal preemption – are no longer valid because of actions taken since the deal was signed.

What actions, you may ask? First, the legislature passed Act 160 in 2006, giving itself the authority to forbid the PSB from issuing a certificate of public good. Second, the Legislature's discussion about whether to let the PSB issue the CPG was based on an area of review under the sole jurisdiction of the NRC – plant safety.

Coakley isn’t taking a position on whether Vermont Yankee should be allowed to continue operating beyond next March. But she does argue that Entergy is relying on an "overly broad preemption analysis that lacks merit and should be rejected." The Atomic Energy Act preserves a state's right to regulate nuclear facilities with respect to generation, sale or transmission of electric power, she says. Entergy charges that federal law is being violated and challenges the state legislature’s motives.

Next week, we’ll talk on the air with nuclear power expert Arnie Gundersen about the case, the safety of Yankee, and what lies ahead as the deadline for closing it approaches.


Whistleblowers Go After Obama

On March 28 President Obama received a “transparency award” from five open government groups: OMB Watch, the National Security Archive, the Project on Government Oversight, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and The presentation took place at a closed, undisclosed meeting in the White House, however, and, as a petition criticizing the award notes, “If the ceremony had been open to the press, it is likely that reporters would have questioned the organizations’ proffered justification for the award.”

The petition, signed by more than 20 well-known whistleblowers, says that the award should be rescinded. The signers include Daniel Ellsberg, former CIA analyst Raymond McGovern, former Pentagon analyst Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, and former National Security Agency analyst Russ Tice. Obama has actually increased governmental secrecy, they charge. Ellsberg says Richard Nixon would be favorably impressed with Obama’s silencing of dissent.

According to the Information Security Oversight Office, the annual cost of classification topped $10.17 billion last year, a 15 percent jump. The number of original classification decisions by the administration was 224,734, a 22.6 percent jump. "There were 544,360 requests for information last year under the Freedom of Information Act to the 35 biggest federal agencies – 41,000 requests more than the year before,” the petition notes. “Yet the bureaucracy responded to 12,400 fewer requests than the prior year, according to an AP analysis.”

More petition excerpts, courtesy of Sam Husseini:

"Obama has invoked baseless and unconstitutional executive secrecy to quash legal inquiries into secret illegalities more often than any predecessor. The list of this President’s invocations of the 'state secrets privilege' has already resulted in shutting down lawsuits involving the National Security Agency’s illegal wiretapping – Jewel vs. NSA and Shubert vs. Obama; extraordinary rendition and assassination – Anwar al-Aulaqi; and illegal torture – Binyam Mohamed.

"Ignoring his campaign promise to protect government whistleblowers, Obama’s presidency has amassed the worst record in U.S. history for persecuting, prosecuting and jailing government whistleblowers and truth-tellers. President Obama's behavior has been in stark contrast to his campaign promises which included live streaming meetings online and so forth, and rewarding whistleblowers. Obama’s Department of Justice is twisting the 1917 Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks -- more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined.

"The Obama DOJ’s prosecution of former NSA official Thomas Drake who, up till June 9, faced 35 years in prison for having blown the whistle on the NSA’s costly and unlawful warrantless monitoring of American citizens typifies the abusive practices made possible through expansive secrecy agreements and threats of prosecution.

"President Obama has set a powerful and chilling example for potential whistleblowers through the abuse and torture of Bradley Manning, whose guilt he has also publicly stated prior to any trial by his, Obama's, military subordinates.

For the complete petition:

The Blame Game in Libya

A rumor has circulated that Libyan soldiers were issued Viagra to help them in raping woman as part of Gaddafi’s war on those opposing his regime. But this has the ring of disinformation, perhaps aimed at making any military response seem reasonable.

Meanwhile, there are other rumors; for example, reports that NATO has bombed a university in Tripoli, killing students and staff. The bombing hasn't been reported by CNN or The New York Times. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “evidence of casualties [in Libya] has been thin, despite more than 160 cruise missile strikes by US and British forces, and at least 175 sorties by those and French and a Canadian jet fighter in the last 24-hour count.”

Soon after NATO started bombing, officials began denying that civilians were dying in the raids. Only the deaths of Gaddafi loyalists were reported. Last week The Times claimed that bombing heavily populated urban areas hasn't killed civilians. “Sightings of civilian casualties have been rare,” wrote John Burns. Sounds like a case of "see no evil."

From the InfoWar Front

The International Monetary Fund says it was targeted by a sophisticated cyber attack earlier this year. Officials provided few details but said the attack was "a very major breach." Cyber security officials surmise the hack was designed to install software to create a "digital insider presence." The IMF has sensitive economic data about many countries.

“The fact that the FBI has been called in, and that the neighboring World Bank has severed its computer link to the IMF, show that it is being taken seriously," notes tech writer Rory Cellan-Jones. This is the latest in a series of high-profile cyber security breaches. Sony Playstation’s network was shut down in April after hackers stole the personal data of about 100 million accounts. In May, Lockheed Martin said it experienced a significant cyber-attack.

CIA Director Leon Panetta has warned the US Congress that a large-scale cyber attack crippling power, finance, security and governmental systems is "a real possibility in today's world."

MIND GAMES: The weekly rant

Are cyberspace and psychiatric drugs messing with our heads? (out on the web)

Brain-altering drugs and Internet “indoctrination” – it’s a potent combination. Together, they pose a threat not only to the stability of individuals but of society itself. Seduced by the promise that our brains can be managed, massaged and enhanced without serious side-effects, we are creating a future where psychological dysfunction could become a post-modern plague and powerful forces use cyberspace to reshape “reality” in their private interest.  Read the Essay


Police State in Wisconsin: Vermont journalists roughed up in Capitol video their own arrest. via @moveon

GOP debate in NH: Looks like we have a new un-reality show, Michelle and the Six Dwarfs. Meet the little guys – “Snarky” (Newt G), “Zany” (Ron P), “Stiffy” (Mitt R), “Creepy” (Rick S), “Deep Dish” (Herman C), and “Timid” (Tim P).

Tweet, tweet, boom: NATO is using Twitter to help locate Libyan targets. Is this the birth of anti-social media?

War Games: Will the GOP block Obama’s Libyan adventure? Does this mean they’re now the anti-war party? Confusing (not really).

What’s Ahead: An air show may be held in Burlington, Vermont again next year. But since the mayor received more negative feedback about this event in 2006 than any other, he’s decided to solicit public comments about whether people in Burlington want another one. Go to to tell Mayor Kiss what you think before 6/21.

One suggestion – Burlington could hold out until its new corporate partner Lockheed Martin agrees to fund a commercial rocket that can take locals and tourists into space at reasonable prices.

If Danes can pull it off, why not Vermonters?

Friday, June 10, 2011


A preview of Greg Guma’s Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live on The Howie Rose Show at 11 a.m. Fridays on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington. This week: Deconstructing the Reagan myth, Comedy Central trumps Fox, manufacturing mental illness, foreclosing on Facebook, food war, the Weiner factor, and suborbital action.

Let’s begin with a private sector initiative we can all get behind…

DANES IN SPACE: A company called Copenhagen Suborbitals has a “non-profit rocket” that was successfully launched on Tuesday -- from a catamaran launch platform in the Baltic Sea. The organization plans to eventually send an amateur-built manned rocket into suborbital space. The craft includes a HEAT 1-X rocket booster and a Tycho Brahe capsule that can accomodate a crew of one. Cramped, but still. The ascent last week was a bit sideways, but the team is confident about eventually getting it straight. This may be the world’s largest amateur-built, space-worthy rocket. The objective is “to show the world that human space flight is possible without major government budgets and administration.” Now there's a reality show.

JOKES RULE, FOX FALLS: Comedy Central shows, particularly The Daily Show, are beating Fox News and the rest of cable in the ratings. May brought their best Nielsen numbers yet. Jon Stewart's Daily Show dominated its time slot, posting an impressive 19 percent increase in viewership. Meanwhile, Fox News saw an overall decline in the highly desirable 25-to-54-year old demographic. Total ratings were down 10 percent. Bill O'Reilly dropped 9 percent, Sean Hannity 6. Greta Van Susteren and Glenn Beck saw the steepest losses. She lost 12 percent of her audience, his slipped by 17.

Beck has been a loser on TV for months (longer off camera), which helps to explain why Fox is letting him go. His TV drop is echoed in ratings for radio shows hosted by both Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Both blowhards lost a third of their listeners last year. That’s according to Arbitron, the industry standard. Has Right-Wing talk finally peaked?

The Daily Show averaged 2.3 million viewers, beating every Fox show except Bill O'Reilly, who attracts an average of 2.8 million people. Stewart and Stephen Colbert beat all other cable and broadcast programs in various categories, including most affluent viewers and most active websties.

Great. But what does it mean when the most watched news shows on cable are satirical?

FORECLOSURE FRIENDS: A strange development overseas may be coming to the US: using Facebook to send legal notices, including foreclosure notifications. According to Bloomberg news, the practice has already been accepted by courts in Australia, Canada, and Great Britain. Not the kind of friending most users have in mind.

FOOD WARS: True or false? Warnings from British intelligence that al-Qaeda and other groups could contaminate the food supply are part of a continuing plot line that hides the obvious: our food already has been poisoned. Ok, it's a rhetorical question.

LOST MEMORIES: The weekly rant/essay, Unpacking the Reagan Myth (out on the web)

People sometimes say I’m soft on the Left and leaders like Bernie Sanders. I say the political establishment, as well as most mainstream and right wing media, have been more than soft on Ronald Reagan. They’ve been spreading a false history and a fake biography, perhaps one of the Big Lies since the Cold War. Has America been roofied by reaganism, and can we remember what really happened before getting fooled again...?   Read the Essay

Other Topics: Sex, Politics, and the Weiner Factor – another installment of men behaving badly in power. Plus, Is Big Pharma increasing mental Illness?

What’s Ahead: Michelle Obama is coming to Vermont at the end of June: What does she need to know? Does anyone beyond the usual suspects plan to “greet” her?

Tune in The Radiator (WOMM-FM/LP) for details.

You actually want more?

Sometimes people who hear a show or have seen something I’ve done over the years ask: Hey, where can I can get more of those great insights, or maybe Greg's various books, videos and CDs. Masochists, I hear you. In recent years I’ve published several hundred articles, in print and online. And yes, I am exhausted. But some of the best archived collections, with overlaps, are the following:

Some have a few articles, some have dozens. The style, tone and content varies – from formal prose and features to reports, commentaries and satire. So keep that in mind. Still other writing can be found through searches on Toward Freedom, Truthout and Countercurrents.

Most of my books are available via Amazon. So, don't hesitate to spend money. Writers must eat. Personally, I recommend Spirits of Desire, an entertaining novel, and The People's Republic, on the rise of Bernie Sanders. In addition to Maverick Media, I’m developing a new site, The Vermont Way, in conjunction with a book that will appear next year.

Meanwhile, keep in touch on Twitter and Facebook. Love it when that happens.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Unpacking the Reagan Myth (before it spreads)

Upon the death of Ronald Reagan seven years ago in June, mainstream media created a fake, soft-focus biography of the first celebrity president. Even today it’s common to hear politicians, including President Obama, voice deep respect for his communication skills, overall performance and impact on the country. It’s as if millions of people have been dosed with a drug that makes you forget years of greed, debauchery, and abuse – the political equivalent of Rohypnol.

You could call this movie The Reagan Hangover: Dude, Where’s My Country? And wonder, can the American people, apparently hung over since the 80s, gradually remember what transpired during that wild extended date with the aging film and TV star? Unfortunately, it’s a gross out flick. The lesson: be careful in the future about bedding down with anyone who claims the 40th President as a role model.

Mitt Romney, for example. Last week the candidate from central casting allegedly channeled the dead president during his announcement speech, robotically repeating sentiments expressed in the Gipper’s 1980 campaign kickoff. Phrases recalled Reagan’s views on state’s rights, American exceptionalism, and government as the problem, seasoned with Reaganesque optimism about the nation’s future. Unless the public recovers its real memory such clumsy seduction could work. Many people already see Obama as another Jimmy Carter, a disappointing and compromised big government liberal. Killing Osama hasn’t changed his overall image.

During an early June presidential pre-announcement on Fox News, Tea Party darling Michelle Bachmann used Reagan like a club. Prompted by Roger Ailes’ socket puppet Sean Hannity, she said Obama “can't get away from his failed report card on dealing with the economy and job creation. President Reagan had created a million jobs a month. President Obama saw 38,000 jobs created in this recovery.” It’s nonsense. But as Tim Dickinson establishes in his Rolling Stone story “Fear Factory,” Fox is a new type of political operation, a giant soundstage created to mimic a news organization and disguise GOP propaganda as journalism.

Fox protégé and contributor Sarah Palin brings up Reagan incessantly. During her recent bus tour, for example, Alaska’s Fame Monster talked about her hero’s 1980 visit to Liberty State Park. “He spoke of the Americans who passed through Ellis Island and whose first glimpse of their adopted country was the grand statue in New York’s harbor,” she gushed. “He talked about our shared values and the common thread of the American dream across an endless mix of backgrounds.”

Reagan as diversity advocate. Classic Sarah, twisted, fact-free and catnip for her base.

Myths of a Not-So-Great Communicator

For most Republicans, calling forth “Dutch” Reagan is like bowing before a religious icon – part faith, part ritual. He’s the GOP Uber-President, The One who supposedly rolled back government and ended the Cold War, the likeable conservative “change agent” par excellence. An even broader public accepts the equally deceptive notion that he was a “great communicator” and a “straight shooter” who, at worst, didn’t know all that was being done in his name. Hearing such descriptions, it can feel like we’re being sucked into a parallel universe where things are slightly, creepily different, sanitized and airbrushed.

The myth-making began as soon as he left the building. CBS reporter Anthony Mason covered news of his death in 2004 by asserting that Reagan “had an uncanny ability to make Americans feel good about themselves.” Absolute hype, but central to the idea that he had bonded uniquely with the masses. Dan Rather piled on by claiming he wasn’t just the great communicator, “he was also a master at communicating greatness.” Rather is always a contender for the Pointless Overstatement Award.

What really happened? In the 1980s US politics continued its gradual merger with show business. Now it looks like a form of reality TV, a 24/7 series where celebrities like Palin and Donald Trump compete for the title of America’s Top Political Predator. The process was just underway in Reagan’s time and he was well trained for it. One-liners could change history. Fatuous banalities passed for a philosophy and ex-cathedra statements masquerading as arguments – “government is the problem” comes to mind – burrowed deep into the nation’s psyche. Reagan and company were especially adept at using reporters and cameras as props, ignoring the occasional tough questions while sticking with the “line of the day.” Journalists adapted, beginning to think in terms of narratives and story lines.

He did know how to stay on message. But what was it? Basically, Reagan put a smiley face on free market extremism. In this neo-Darwinism world it was everybody for themselves. He also taught many a media gatekeeper that the truth was no longer so important. As Dick Cheney put it in his Reagan eulogy, “He showed us that words change things more than acts.”

Another way to explain it is that he said one thing and did another. For example, Reagan insisted that a balanced budget was one of his priorities. Yet by the time he left office a combination of lower tax revenues and higher spending for the military sent the deficit through the roof.

Was He a Straight-Shooter?

Related to Reagan’s vaunted communication chops is the assumption that he was honest and principled. The record, however, shows rampant corruption on his watch, and not just the constitution-shredding outrage known as Iran-Contra but a modern record for the number of indicted officials. By the end of his second term, at least 138 administration officials had been convicted, indicted or investigated for misconduct or criminal activity. Many have been forgotten, some were “rehabilitated” by the two Bushes.

Did Reagan know what was happening and simply ignore it? Or was the early onset of Alzheimer’s a convenient tool for his “advisors?” When I met the man in 1980, he was already having distinct senior moments. The press corps teased him about it with trick questions – but never informed the public. Either way, it was more a matter of being oblivious than straightforward or especially clean.

Though much lying was done on his behalf, Reagan did utter some clear falsehoods of his own. On invading Grenada, for instance, he claimed that the OAS pleaded for intervention. The pleading actually came from the US. He once also claimed that the Russians had sprayed toxic chemicals over Afghanistan. It turned out to be pollen-laden feces dropped by honeybees over Laos and Cambodia.

A Man of the People?

Another myth is his relative popularity. The most popular president ever upon leaving office, the media has claimed. Taking that cue, some have pressed for a monument and other forms of recognition. But Bill Clinton’s approval rating when he left office was higher. Same for Franklin D. Roosevelt, and that was after three-and-a half terms and a world war.

Was Reagan one of the most popular presidents, of the 20th or any century? Actually, he ranks about the same as most post-World War II leaders. An average approval rating of 52 percent puts him behind Kennedy (70 percent), Eisenhower (66), George H.W. Bush (61), Clinton (55) and Lyndon Johnson (55). During his first term Reagan’s popularity frequently dipped below 50 percent, and slipped to 46 during Iran-Contra. His personal high was 68 percent, three points below Clinton’s. The 19th century may have suited him best.

What about likeability? He certainly had that, right? Yes, in a weird grandpa way. But while it’s impossible to know his real personality – even his son Ron says he was inaccessible – the official likeability numbers aren’t significantly different than for other presidents, including Jimmy Carter. And plenty of people thought at the time that he was dangerous, a cowboy who talked grandly about a Star Wars defense.

Nor was he especially optimistic, or a promoter of “old time values,” as The New York Times and others have insisted. Let’s face it: He ran a union busting administration and unleashed a war on the poor. Not an especially compassionate conservative. Back in 1964, he joked about the fact that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. “Well, that was probably true,” he said, “they were all on a diet.” Two years later he called unemployment insurance “a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders.” And let’s not forget his “bombing starts in ten minutes” joke about the Soviet Union before a presidential TV address.

Speaking of compassion and communication, he didn’t mention AIDS publicly until 1987. By that time the disease had killed at least 19,000 people in the US alone. While public health professionals pressed for education and prevention, Reagan moralists like Education Secretary Bill Bennett insisted on limiting the response to abstinence.

Reagan appealed mainly to private rather than public interests. Where were the calls to service, common effort, shared sacrifice or anything that extends beyond gratification of the individual? Nowhere to be found. Instead, his world view led to a celebration of selfishness, a green light for a new wave of conspicuous consumption. So, we should at least give him credit for making the 1980s the Decade of Greed.

The Cold War Closer?

Even if you take away honesty, popularity and compassion, didn’t he end the Cold War? People like Cheney go as far as to claim it was his courage and perseverance alone, a deep insult to the courageous men and women throughout the Communist bloc who risked their lives. Reagan risked nothing, except a record deficit that took a decade and a Democratic president to eliminate.

He had no idea that the Soviet regime would collapse. According to George Kennan, “the suggestion that any United States administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous domestic political upheaval in another great country on another side of the globe is simply childish.” Kennan thought that US militarism strengthened Soviet hard-liners, delaying rather than hastening the change.

Asked whether Reagan’s military spending or “evil empire” rhetoric helped open up the country, Aleksandr Yakovlev, a close advisor to Gorbachev, said “it played no role. None. I can tell you that with the fullest responsibility. Gorbachev and I were ready for changes in our policy regardless of whether the American president was Reagan, or Kennedy, or someone even more liberal.”

If anyone should get credit for the changes in Eastern Europe and the USSR during the late 1980s, both positive and questionable ones, it’s Gorby and those he set loose. Despite all the tough talk from Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, nothing significant happened until the Soviet Union had a reform leader.

What Really Happened

From the start of his political career Reagan was an unapologetic voice for the wealthy, the greedy and the lucky, a corporate shill who apparently thought Medicare threatened civilization. Many of his current disciples secretly agree. Yet he is called a man of the people. Both the merging of show business and politics that his rise to power represented and the contradictions within his message were anticipated by Hollywood in the late 1950s when a TV star named Lonesome Roads (young Andy Griffith in a wonderful film debut) became an amoral kingmaker in the film A Face in the Crowd. Think Glenn Beck with a guitar and drawl.

So, what’s the Reagan record? Secret wars, scandals, tax cuts for the rich, greater debt, and slashing the social safety net. Just for starters. Reagan functionaries pushed for structural adjustment programs, an international prescription that combined deregulation, privatization, an emphasis on exports, and cuts in social spending. Much of the same was also applied at home. By deregulating the savings and loan industry, his regime paved the way for a financial meltdown and a bailout that cost taxpayers hundreds of billions. Plus, the table was set for a long-term deregulation push that exacerbated the recent economic crisis.

As poverty and homelessness surged, Reagan defended his record with this insight: “One problem that we’ve had, even in the best of times, and that is the people who are sleeping on grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice.” Pretty cold, right?

The hallmark of Reaganomics was, of course, tax cuts. In 1981 he spearheaded one of the largest in US history. Heavily weighted toward the wealthy, it widened inequality. As his budget director David Stockman later admitted, the intended effect was to starve the government and justify cuts in spending – except on corporate welfare and the military. Some things haven’t changed. On the other hand, he also supported four tax hikes in his first term and a corporate tax increase in 1986.

Reagan’s team rewrote antitrust laws and oversaw an unprecedented merger binge. The way his chief enforcement official, William Baxter, viewed it, “There is nothing written in the sky that says the world would not be a perfectly satisfactory place if there were only 100 companies.” There’s a “free market” vision. The nation’s trade gap hit new records, while the environment deteriorated and the EPA budget was cut by half. Countless regulations were discarded or revised based on pseudo-scientific conclusions. There’s more but you get the point.

Criminal Intent and Big Lies

The biggest myth about Reagan may be the claim that he was a reluctant warrior eager to make peace, and not a celluloid cowboy and knee-jerk imperialist who supported dictators and death squads, illegally pursued secret wars, and backed Islamic radicals destined to turn against the US.

Is this exaggeration? Let’s start with General Efrain Rios Montt, who carried out a near holocaust against Indians and peasants in Guatemala. He was condemned around the world. Yet Reagan visited the dictator in 1982, and afterward said he was getting a “bad deal” over human rights abuses. And let’s not to neglect Saddam Hussein, whose regime was actively assisted by the US with weapons components, military intelligence, even ingredients for making biological weapons. So much for democracy and non-proliferation.

In El Salvador, election fraud and the murder of anyone who dissented led to civil war. Reagan responded with unlimited money, military and training that led to torture and para-military death squads. CIA and other US personnel played active roles. The outcome was a least 75,000 civilian deaths, the thwarting of social change, and more wealth for the oligarchy.

As for secret wars, do we really need to go farther than Nicaragua, under vicious attacks for years by Reagan’s proxy army, the Contras? It was all-out, though largely covert combat directed from DC, and aimed at destroying the government, burning down schools and clinics, mining harbors and dropping bombs. Reagan called his thugs freedom fighters, one of many linguistic subversions. Plus, we had “arms for hostages,” the Secret Team and other off-book covert ops.

Although the idea of backing Islamic fighters in Afghanistan dates from the Carter era – Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Advisor and initially part of Obama’s brain trust, has taken credit – the government went all-in during the Reagan’s time. Outcome: More than a million dead, three million disabled, five million refugees, the rise of a medieval regime, and a generation of hostile fundamentalists, originally trained and armed by the US.

Is all this just ancient history? Not if people continue to accept the fantasy that Reagan was a benign, small government, John Wayne type with compassion and deeply held principles. Not if they believe that those currently exploiting his false bio will somehow restore his imaginary legacy. At times like these doesn’t someone need to shout, “Wake up. You were totally screwed by that guy.”

It matters because the political establishment and most media have been worse than soft on the man once known as Ray-Gun. They’ve been marketing a fake, possibly one of the big lies since the Cold War. According to Joseph Goebbels, the monster who coined the phrase, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie."

The shielding was pretty effective until the financial meltdown, and the deception persists. So, if we don’t want to be roofied by another political predator in the future, let’s get clear on what happened in the past. When Reagan was in charge government grew—along with the deficit, taxes rose – except on the rich, secret wars raged, corruption reigned, violations of human and civil rights were widespread, and the president was a stone-cold diva who didn’t seem to care. Wake up and re-smell the 80s.

This is what Romney, Palin, Bachmann and the gang want to bring back? They must be on drugs. Fortunately we can just say no. As Gil Scott-Heron sang, we don’t need no Re-Ron. The last one was bad enough.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Remembering Gil Scott-Heron

Last August The New Yorker ran a profile of musician Gil Scott-Heron with the gloomy headline, “New York is Killing Me.” Although the subhead attempted to balance the negativity by noting “The unlikely survival of Gil Scott-Heron,” it was a pretty grim description, accompanied by a poignant life story and interviews. Less than nine months later Scott-Heron, widely considered one of the inventors of rap – he didn’t like the word Godfather – survives no more. Something did kill him, but probably not New York.

On May 27, at age 62, he passed away after a groundbreaking career, a recent trip to Europe, and a long struggle with crack cocaine. The cause of death wasn’t initially mentioned.

Scott-Heron called himself a bluesologist, a modest claim for someone whose musical style and lyrics had such a profound impact. The title of The New Yorker piece was taken from a song on his last album, We’re Still Here. He wrote:

Bunch of doctors came around,
They don’t know,
That New York is killing me
I need to go home
And take it slow down in Jackson, Tennessee.

He had spent some time in Jackson. His father was Gilbert Heron, a soccer player from Jamaica who moved to Chicago after World War II and met Bobbie Scott, his mother. But mom and dad broke up when he was only two and he went to live in Jackson with his grandmother. She was the one who nurtured his musical talent. Grandma died when he was 12 and Scott-Heron moved to the Bronx with his mom. There he eventually became one of five blacks in a class at the exclusive Ethical Culture Fieldston School, and moved on to Lincoln University, where his musical career took off with collaborator Brian Jackson.

His last recording begins and ends with part of a poem he wrote decades ago, “Coming from a Broken Home,” specifically the lines:

Womenfolk raised me and I was full grown
Before I knew I came from a broken home

Scott-Heron emerged in the late 60s, a charismatic avatar of what became rap and author of unforgettable phrases like “the revolution will not be televised.” He was witty, tough and political, a writer who sang with a distinctive growling voice. His music meshed percussion, poetry and politics in unique ways, opening the road toward a new kind of music. The lyrics took on race and apartheid but also nuclear power and consumer culture. On his latest album Kanye West closes the last song with a long excerpt from Scott-Heron’s “Who Will Survive in America.”

Between 1970 and 1982 Scott-Heron made 13 albums. After that, however, there were only three. In his last ten year he was convicted twice of cocaine possession.

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was the title of a satirical spoken-word piece he wrote in 1968, at the age of 19. It went out on a small label, but the impact was immense. The lyrics are still smart and subversive more than 40 years later, though the cultural references have become dated. It made Gil Scott-Heron instantly famous.

In the early 1980s I saw him perform live in Burlington, one of the best live performances I’ve ever experienced and the first rock concert my son Jesse attended. But his final decades were tough and troubled. He even chose crack over a serious relationship with artist Monique de Latour. Still, he leaves behind a wonderful legacy in songs like Johannesburg, Home Is Where the Hatred Is and We Almost Lost Detroit, and lyrics like these:

The revolution will not be televised
The revolution will not be right back after a message
About a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a germ on your Bedroom,
a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.

The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that cause bad breath.
The revolution WILL put you in the driver's seat.

The revolution will not be televised,
WILL not be televised, WILL NOT BE TELEVISED.

The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

Ousted President Comes Home

While most people in the US celebrated Memorial Day, Hondurans were engaged in a very different historical moment: the return of President Manuel Zelaya, 23 months after being forced into exile at gunpoint. It was the first coup in Central America in about 25 years. Unfortunately he is no longer president. But Zelaya’s peaceful return is a limited success for coup opponents. The post coup government, under President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, has become increasingly repressive, virtually a political pariah in the region.

Earlier this week a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, signed by 87 members of Congress, called for suspension of aid to the Honduran military and police. Clinton and her friend Lanny Davis, who lobbies for the coup regime, have pushed to legitimize the current government – despite a state department cable titled "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup" that admits Zelaya’s removal was illegal. PS. The cable was released by Wikileaks.

Amy Goodman was the only US journalist on Zelaya's flight home. On the way she asked him how he felt. "Full of hope and optimism," he replied. "Political action is possible instead of armaments. No to violence. No to military coups. Coups never more."

When Zelaya landed in Honduras he was greeted by tens of thousands of people cheering and waving the black-and-red flag of the movement born after the coup, the National Front of Popular Resistance. In Honduras it’s known simply as "the resistance."

Shortly after his return, Honduran teachers who have been on a hunger strike for a month publicly asked him to intercede on their behalf for the reinstatement of some 300 suspended teachers. Their health is deteriorating. Five who met with Zelaya -- Yanina Parada, Luis Sosa, Valentin Canales, Wilmer Moreno and Juan Carlos Caliz – have lost weight and shown symptoms of anemia. Some have kidneys problems, according to doctors monitoring them. The strikers want the reinstatement of colleagues suspended for joining protests in March and April against privatization of education and other demands, such as the payment of back wages owed to over 6,000 educators.

Since the coup, violence has been widespread. Anyone daring to speak out risks intimidation, arrest and possibly murder. At least a dozen journalists have been killed there since the coup, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Scores of campesinos have also been murdered. Goodman reported last week that high school students protesting teacher layoffs and the privatization were violently attacked by police. The UN is meanwhile concerned about an apparent new development: targeting of lawyers by organized crime groups.

The current government agreed to Zelaya's return to gain readmission into the Organization of American States. The coup leaders apparently don’t like their isolation in Latin America. Not so among US leaders. Even though President Obama eventually acknowledged that Zelaya's ouster was "a coup," the US subsequently dropped the term.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said recently that he doesn’t support Honduras's return to the OAS at this time. Those responsible for the coup haven’t been punished, he argues, something he considers a requirement if the country is to return to normal. Nevertheless, Honduras was readmitted on Wednesday, just in time for the OAS General Assembly scheduled for this Sunday.

Though democratically-elected, Zelaya ended up agreeing to his exile in the Dominican Republic. His replacement was a conservative landowner with a business degree from the University of Miami who started out by pledging to be tough on crime and push for reintroduction of the death penalty. Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina called his election illegitimate. Secretary of State Clinton backed him.

Prior to removal Zelaya was gaining popular support for policies like a 60 percent increase in the minimum wage, a plan to take over the US Palmerola air base and use it as the civilian airport, distribution of land to peasant farmers, and joining Alba, the regional cooperative bloc developed to reduce US economic domination. On the day he was deposed, Zelaya was holding a nonbinding straw poll on whether to hold a national constituent assembly to evaluate possible changes to the constitution. He thinks that’s why he was deposed.

Was the US involved? It’s possible. US policy clearly shifted after Zelaya decided to improve relations with Venezuela. The hope was to secure petro-subsidies and aid. Whatever the real story, the coup sent a message to others countries that found Venezuelan-led economic programs attractive. For Hondurans, the important thing right now is a return of democracy.

Vermont’s Road to Single-Payer

Last week Vermont officially embarked on the road to providing health care for all its residents through a single payer system called Green Mountain Care. Key elements include containing costs by setting reimbursement rates for health care providers and streamlining administration into a single, state-managed system. However, the state will need a waiver from the federal government to implement its plan by 2014 and unanswered questions remain.

Organized opposition has been muted in the last few months, mainly led by insurance agents. But an influx of national money and media is expected now that the law has been signed. “There are definitely people who want to see this fail,” notes House Speaker Shap Smith. “We cannot let that happen.”

Major questions, including how the program will be funded, have yet to be worked out.

Executive Cyber-Action

Cyber-attacks will soon be considered acts of war, according to the New York Times. In the future, a US president will be able to respond with economic sanctions, cyber-retaliation or a military strike if key US computer systems are attacked. Not only does this look like another step toward an era of Info Wars but one more example of executive power expanding at the expense of democracy and sovereignty.

Question: Is a Progressive-Libertarian Alliance Possible?

Complete Article

SNIP: “Short of something like a Sanders-Paul slate or a new, well-funded Progressive-Libertarian Party, the best hope may be a multi-issue alliance that brings people together across the usual ideological barriers around a limited number of galvanizing issues. Just for example, how about this: bring the troops home, deep cuts in the military, roll back repressive legislation, full financial transparency, and end corporate welfare. The process could begin by agreeing on something like that.

“You can certainly say that such a list is incomplete or doesn’t go far enough. Fair enough. But it does go in the right direction, potentially bridging some of the divisions that keep the vast majority fighting among themselves while realigning conventional Left-Right politics. In the long run, a Progressive-Libertarian alliance probably couldn’t last. But before it faded – if people overcame traditional divisions, if the debate really changed and new thinking took hold – wouldn’t the effort be worth it?”

Adapted from Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live on The Howie Rose Show at 11 a.m. Fridays on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington.